Less is More for Snow Removal Fleet at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Intl

Robert Nordstrom
Published in: 

With substantial overnight air traffic from DHL Express, it's imperative for Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) to keep its runways open 24/7. When temperatures drop and precipitation flies, all eyes are on the snow removal crew to keep DHL's airplanes flying.

CVG management recently enacted a flurry of changes to the airport's snow removal operations with an eye to improving efficiency and safety while lowering costs. Last year, the airport traded in 16 various pieces of snow removal equipment for nine multifunction vehicles and a plow specifically designed for runway lights.


Project: New Snow Removal Fleet & Plan

Location: Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Int'l Airport

Crew: 100 full-time & seasonal workers

Shifts: 7 a.m. - 8 p.m.; 7 p.m. - 8 a.m (1-hour overlap is used for debriefings, strategy discussions, equipment issues, etc.)

Equipment Suppliers: Fortbrand Services (nine Vammas PSB 5500 multifunction snow removal vehicles); Myslik (a Tellefsdal Runway Light Plow; two FOD BOSS units)

Equipment Manufacturers: Aljon Mfg. (Vammas PSB 5500); Tellefsdal (runway light plow); Aerosweep (FOD BOSS)

The investment in multifunction equipment has allowed the airport to downsize its fleet while reducing labor, fuel and maintenance costs, reports Shannon Oldfield, CVG's director of maintenance.

"Essentially, we're able to be more efficient," Oldfield explains. "If you remove one piece of equipment from the airfield and you're able to maintain operational efficiency, then you have, in my opinion, also improved safety."

This is not the first time CVG has overhauled its wintertime strategies. The airport previously used a daytime crew for the bulk of its snow removal and ran a skeleton crew at night to maintain airfield conditions. But when DHL left in 2004, the airport no longer needed to run snow removal operations throughout the night, explains Oldfield. When the express carrier returned to the field in 2009, so did the need for overnight snow removal.

Back then, CVG used traditional plow trucks, front-mounted brooms and snow blowers to clear its runways, taxiways and ramp areas - a process that is costly in terms of time and labor, notes Oldfield.

During heavy snow events, broken runway lights were also an issue. Using traditional equipment and methods, plow trucks weave in and out of lights. "But even the best operator will destroy a few lights," Oldfield explains. "Plus after the storm, uncovering the lights with shovels and backhoes was not efficient."

Given such shortcomings, CVG management decided to overhaul its snow removal procedures by investing in multifunction snow removal equipment and refining its strategic approach.

The New Fleet

In a less-is-more move, the airport bought nine Vammas PSB 5500 multifunction snow removal vehicles and a Tellefsdal runway light plow to replace its runway deicing truck and 15-piece fleet of front-mounted brooms and plow trucks.

The Vammas machine allows a single operator to plow, sweep and blow snow in the same vehicle, at speeds up to 37 miles per hour. The unit combines front wheel mechanical and rear articulated steering to maneuver on taxiways, aprons and runways.

The vehicle's 30-foot polyethylene moldboard plow is self-adjusting, with independent spring-loaded cutting edge segments designed to minimize damage to in- pavement lighting. The broom section, which is placed behind the plow, covers a 22-foot swath. The 46-inch diameter broom with wafer bristles runs on 31-inch castor wheels. A blower at the rear of the unit removes remaining snow.

The order of operations is key - and a key to the unit's high top speed, says Alan Stearn, executive vice president of Vammas' distributor Fortbrand Services.

Because the plow performs the bulk of the work, putting it in front rather than the broom prevents the broom from getting bogged down, explains Stearn. The Vammas' middle-mounted broom sweeps up what the plow may leave, and an intense air blast at the rear of the machine clears remaining remnants, he continues.

According to Stearn, a fleet of these units can clear a 10,000- to 12,000-foot runway in 10 to 12 minutes.

CVG operates its new nine multifunction vehicles simultaneously in a staggered or V formation, pushing snow from unit to unit until it reaches the sides of the 150-foot-wide runways.

Crews use a wheel loader to push the airport's new Tellefsdal runway light plow directly over the edge lights. Two small adjustable plows in the front of the unit separate snow from each side of the lights, and two brushes in the center of the unit clear the snow close to the lights. Two larger plows at the rear of the unit then push the snow out for a plow truck or snow blower to clear.

The specialized plow is often connected to various prime movers, but CVG connected its unit to a wheel loader with an offset coupler to make use of an existing vehicle.

"The runway light plow is actually set off to the right side of the loader," explains Bill Myslik, vice president of Tellefsdal distributor Myslik Inc. "The operator drives the loader to the left side of the runway lights while lining up the plow to go directly over the lights. The alternative was to change to larger tires during snow events, which was not cost effective for the amount of time CVG would be using the light plow."

CVG also purchased a foreign object debris (FOD) sweeper that is towed behind a vehicle. The FOD BOSS, manufactured by Aerosweep, uses a 6-foot-long, 8-foot-wide mat with brushes underneath to agitate FOD, then scoop it up and trap it in a retaining mesh. The airport's duplex system covers a 16-foot path.

"It's a very simple piece of equipment to use," says Oldfield. "It picks up small debris, from nuts and bolts to pieces of concrete. We use it regularly and have had tremendous luck with it."

Winter Ready

These days, CVG relies on more than 100 full-time and seasonal workers to clear the airport's four runways, associated taxiways, ramp areas and side pavements of streets. The daytime shift (typically 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.) has up to 65 employees, and the nighttime shift (usually 7 p.m. to 8 a.m.) has as many as 45 employees.

The 13-hour shifts provide a one-hour overlap for debriefings, strategy discussions, equipment adjustments and other logistics, notes Oldfield.

Flexibility is an important part of the airport's approach. "With access to seasonal employees, we are able to scale up or down as needed," he explains.

Every member of CVG's snow team undergoes rigorous training from the airport, Oldfield adds. Fortbrand also provided supplemental operation and maintenance training with the delivery of the new multifunction equipment.

"Fortbrand was very helpful in answering questions and suggesting different routines and equipment configurations for using the multifunctional equipment to its fullest capacity," Oldfield reports. "They evaluated our equipment inventory and made suggestions. We drew from our experience and took Fortbrand's suggestions to develop a tailor-made program for CVG. With the new multifunction equipment, we've noticed a big difference in our snow removal operations. We are able to work much more efficiently and effectively."

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