Greater Sudbury Airport Boosts Snow Removal Efficiency by Embracing New Technology

Greater Sudbury Airport Boosts Snow Removal Efficiency by Embracing New Technology
Ken Wysocky
Published in: 

The philosophy about snow removal equipment at Greater Sudbury Airport (YSB) can be summed up in three words: Larger. Faster. Better.

To handle copious amounts of snow with a relatively small snow removal staff, the Ontario airport takes a tactical approach that emphasizes advanced equipment and machines that boost productivity and efficiency.

“It’s all about increasing efficiencies and decreasing the time we have to spend out on the runways, especially during flight times,” says Robert Tyrer, director of Airport Operations, Security and Planning. Located in Northern Ontario, YSB provides critical connecting service to Toronto, about 240 miles to the south.


Project: Optimizing Winter Operations

Location: Greater Sudbury (ON) Airport

Annual Enplanements: About 50,000

Runways: 2 (6,500 & 5,000 ft. long)

Avg. Snowfall: 8½ ft. per year

Snow Removal Crew: 15 employees; 1 full-time trainer/supervisor; seasonal workers

Associated Maintenance Staff: 2 mechanics

Equipment: 5 plows, 5 plow trucks, 4 brooms, 2 wheel loaders, 2 snow blowers, 2 multi-use tractors, 1 multi-purpose sander, 2 boom trailers, 1 cradle broom

Equipment Manufacturers: Airport Technologies; Case; CLAAS; Craig Manufacturing Ltd.; Giletta; HLA Snow; International; J.A. Larue Inc.; John Deere; M-B Companies; Metal Pless Inc.; New Holland; Paladin Attachments; Tyler Ice Controls; Western Products

Equipment Distributor: Team Eagle

Snow Removal Strategy: Invest in larger, technologically advanced equipment to boost productivity/efficiency, minimize fleet size, decrease expenses for fuel & melting agents/abrasives

“We’re a small regional airport, but our goal is to be a center of excellence for snow removal operations and training,” adds Airfield Operations Manager Phil Rocca, noting that YSB handles about 50,000 aircraft/250,000 passenger movements annually on two runways—a 6,500-foot-long primary and 5,000-foot secondary.

Excellence is a must, as Old Man Winter often forces the airport to punch above its weight when it comes to winter operations. Take the winter of 2019-2020, for example, when the area was hit with nearly 14 feet of snow.

“It was insane,” Rocca recalls.

Even typical winters provide plenty of challenges. Situated about 40 miles north of Lake Huron, YSB receives an average of 8½ feet of snow annually.

Jason Whittemore, vice president of Metal Pless, an Ontario-based snowplow manufacturer, notes that YSB’s snow removal prowess has helped it establish a sterling reputation in the Canadian airport community.

“Sudbury is known to be on the leading edge of investing in new technology,” says Whittemore.

“They’re very forward-thinking,” adds Ben McKeown, commercial business manager at Team Eagle, which distributes Metal Pless and other brands of snow removal equipment in North America. “They go out and get the best equipment available to fulfill their needs.

“The Canadian airport network relies heavily on Sudbury for guidance about winter snow operations,” he continues. “They’re very engaged and are leaders in the snow removal community.”

Doing More With Less

Several years ago, YSB started investing in larger pieces of equipment that do the work of multiple machines to help its small, but seasoned, staff remove more snow in less time. That, in turn, allows the airport to allocate its 15 snow removal employees and seasonal workers more efficiently.

A good example is the airport’s recent investment in a Metal Pless MaxxPro 20-36 snowplow, which is mounted on an Eagle CLAAS Xerion 5000 tractor. The plow offers operators three configurations: a 20-foot-wide box plow, a 28-foot-wide scoop plow and a traditional plow that is 36 feet wide with its side wings fully extended. 

Rocca reports that the productivity gains were immediate. Previously, operators used to push snow to the center of the apron, then scoop it away with wheel loaders.

“We used to run two different operators on two smaller pieces of equipment with smaller plows,” recalls Tyrer. “It took them between three and four hours to clear the apron. But with the 36-foot blade, we can do the same work with one operator in one hour.”

“We recognized the time savings immediately,” Rocca adds.

The MaxxPro’s flexible blade configurations are key to the increased productivity, he explains. After using the fully extended blade to clear a large area, operators can fold in the wide wings and push away the snow piles with the same machine.

Overall, the MaxxPro plow reduced apron-clearing operations from two plows with two operators to one plow and one operator, Tyrer reports.

“Having a blade that can change its configuration to plow, back-drag and windrow both left and right is huge in terms of productivity,” Whittemore emphasizes. The side wings can move 180 degrees overall and also can move independently from each other, he adds.

Tyrer notes that every piece in YSB’s fleet is crucial for maintaining flight operations during winter, but the larger plow is a game-changer.

“The bigger blades increase the efficiency of the operation in terms of clearing apron spaces,” he says. “Those are the key components of our operation.”

Cleaner Passes

Both of the airport’s MaxxPro units (a 20-36 model and a 12-22) have blades that conform to uneven surfaces. Whittemore explains that Live Edge technology leaves less snow and ice on surfaces after plowing because spring-loaded steel cutting edges on the bottom of the plows can float up to 3 inches vertically and 2 inches horizontally from each other. Less residual snow and ice means crews need to apply up to 50% less melting agents and abrasives after plowing, he adds.

“Sudbury was among the first airports in Canada to buy blades with Live Edge,” says Whittemore. “Before Live Edge technology, you’d have to plow over and over to remove as much snow as possible, then do brooming and salting. But this blade is more effective because it follows the contours of the surface mechanically, so the operator doesn’t have to compensate for uneven surfaces manually.”

The plow design helps reduce fuel consumption because equipment operators make fewer passes. “Some customers tell us that Live Edge reduces their fuel consumption by 3% to 5% compared to a conventional straight blade,” Whittemore reports. “It can replace three smaller conventional plows.”

MaxxPro units are also equipped with slip-hitches that allow the entire plow to ride up and down 6 inches, so there is less damaging friction between the plow and surfaces it is clearing,
he adds.

In addition to the MaxxPro units from Metal Pless, the airport uses three plows from Craig Manufacturing Ltd. and HLA Snow.

Equipped for Productivity

Naturally, it takes more than plows to handle Ontario’s heavy snowfall. YSB also operates:

  • four brooms manufactured by M-B Companies and Paladin Attachments
  • two wheel loaders built by Case and John Deere
  • two J.A. Larue snowblowers
  • one 20-foot cradle broom built by M-B Companies
  • two large multi-use tractors, made by Eagle CLAAS and New Holland, which can be used as plows or blowers
  • five plow trucks from International and Airport Technologies
  • one Giletta multi-purpose sander that spreads dry and wet sand or liquids
  • one 50-foot boom trailer made by Tyler Ice Controls for spraying liquid chemicals, and
  • one tow-behind unit built by Western Products for spreading solid chemicals.

The equipment is operated by three five-person crews that provide 20 hours of coverage per day. When needed, the airport significantly increases its ranks with up to nine seasonal workers. Each seasonal employee is trained to operate nearly every piece of snow removal equipment, Rocca notes.

In addition to providing year-round equipment training, the airport’s full-time trainer supervises operations. “That person also handles assessments throughout the year,” says Rocca. “So if anything is lacking, we can immediately address it to keep work going.”

To enhance operations, the airport also employs two mechanics.

“They do the major prep during summer months leading up to the winter season,” Rocca says. “And they maintain the equipment throughout the winter.”

All winter operations equipment, materials and chemicals are stored indoors in three steel buildings. One of the facilities also serves as a maintenance building, with six double-deep service bays, emergency services and offices.

Changing Weather

Winter operations at YSB have been especially challenging the past few years, due to dramatically different weather patterns.

“The weather has been cycling from deep cold to almost zero,” Tyrer explains. “We’ll have three to four days of bitter cold followed by a warmer day, and then go right back into a deep freeze. That creates different icing conditions.

“Years ago, when winter started, it got cold and then progressively colder,” he continues. “We’d hit a deep freeze in January, and then it would progressively start to thaw up until March. Now, it’s a continual freeze-thaw cycle.”

Emerging Trend

Tyrer and Rocca predict that moving forward, the airport’s investments in new snow removal equipment will continue to center on larger pieces. A good example is the recently purchased 20-foot M-B cradle broom.

“That’s where we need to be in the future,” Rocca says. “The bigger brooms allow us to clean the runways in a more timely manner and more efficiently. You’re running fewer passes and fewer operators.”

Personnel at Team Eagle and other equipment distributors consider YSB’s purchasing strategy part of a growing industry-wide trend. “We’re starting to see a move toward doing more with less personnel, a trend accelerated by COVID-19,” McKeown reports. “Airports now need to figure out how to do work efficiently if half of a shift is out sick. So there’s more and more demand for equipment that performs more than just one function, as well as multi-season functions.”

As an example, he cites the CLAAS tractor, which plows snow in winter and tows a grass-cutting machine in spring and summer. It also can be used with attachments such as sweepers and snow blowers.

Speaking from an equipment manufacturer’s perspective, Whittemore agrees that successful snow removal operations depend on efficiency and productivity, as exemplified by YSB.

“Airports are limited by time—every second counts,” he emphasizes. “They can’t just shut down for three hours until the snow is cleared. Everything at airports has to be faster and more efficient when it comes to snow removal. And that’s how Sudbury operates.”


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