Proactive Fleet Management & Fiscal Prudence Keep Montréal Trudeau Int’l Prepared for Snowy Challenges

Proactive Fleet Management & Fiscal  Prudence Keep Montréal Trudeau Int’l  Prepared for Snowy Challenges
Jennifer Bradley
Published in: 

Winters at Montréal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (YUL) are nothing to trifle with. Snow removal crews provide 24/7 coverage for the airfield from mid-November to mid-April. That’s five long months of physically demanding work in cold, sometimes punishingly frigid, conditions. 

In 2016-17, the area dealt with 13 freezing rain events and experienced average snowfalls of 220 cm (86.61 inches) each year. In preparation for the 2018 winter season, Aéroports de Montréal acquired new equipment to help crews maintain an increased amount of airfield surfaces, including new remote aircraft parking areas. It also replaced three units at the end of their lifecycles and bolstered YUL’s fleet for dealing with ice and freezing rain.

Sylvain Marchand, assistant director of ground maintenance and mobile equipment for Aéroports de Montréal, says the main objective is to optimize the lifecycle of all pieces—by not spending frivolously and keeping equipment for as long as it is useful.


Project: Optimizing Winter Operations

Location: Montréal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau Int’l Airport 

Owner: Transport Canada

Operator: Aéroports de Montréal

Total Runway Surface: 1.6 million sq. meters 

Apron: 1.1 million sq. meters 

Avg. Snow Removal Time: 17-25 min/runway

Winter Season: Nov. 15-April 15 

Snow Removal Crew: 122.5 employees; 91 more on call with bank of guaranteed hours

Alexander Leonard, manager of mobile equipment for YUL, is glad he and Marchand are on the same page: focusing on what equipment is needed rather than what can be afforded. “We’ve always been a bit more frugal on the number of equipment,” Leonard reflects. “But we know that if you don’t have contingency equipment, your operations are directly impacted.” 

With more than 19 million annual passengers, YUL needs a large-scale operation for battling snow and ice. Leonard emphasizes that it also requires a well-managed fleet that is flexible, benchmarked and balanced. 

Bone-Chilling Challenges

Many of the headaches Leonard experiences are simply matters of geography and weather. “We get pretty hard winters, a lot of accumulation and really different peaks in temperature and precipitations,” he explains. “We can see basically a cocktail of different weather patterns in 24 hours.” 

The harsh weather is tough on both staff and equipment, notes David Robichaud, an international sales representative at J.A. Larue Inc. Steel becomes brittle, components break more easily, and extreme cold stresses hydraulics and engines, says the 40-year industry veteran. 

YUL has developed formulas to estimate the type and amount of equipment needed for various weather situations. The formulas balance current and forecasted conditions with the amount and type of surfaces to be cleared: 1.6 million square meters of runways and traffic lanes, another 1.1 million square meters of aprons, and other miscellaneous airfield pavement. 

Changes to the fleet affect the coverage levels. Over the last 10 years, equipment has become larger and more efficient. Snowplows equipped with 40-foot blades and other key tools reduce downtime for clearing operations and help prevent runway closures, observes Marchand. Currently, YUL’s average snow removal time is 17 to 25 minutes per runway. (Runway lengths vary from 7,000 to 11,000 feet.) 

 “If we rewind to a decade ago, for the same amount of equipment, we have reduced our time in half,” he remarks. 

This is good news for passengers and air carriers—especially Air Canada, which uses YUL as a hub. It’s also a welcome trend for the airport’s snow crews. 

Robichaud notes that the comfort, ergonomics, speed, safety and capacity of equipment have all increased over the years. “The speed of how fast you can do the work is a critical aspect for airports,” he says. “A lot of facilities are updating their equipment to higher-capacity models to be able to clear a 10,000-foot runway in 20 minutes.” Some of the sweepers and snowblowers he sells work at 25 to 30 mph. 

Planning Ahead 

Scheduling equipment purchases can be tricky, as the lead-time for delivery of large pieces can be more than one year. According to Leonard, the key is finding the sweet spot between capital planning and complete amortization. “That’s the fine curve of maintenance,” he notes. “Right before it goes out, you have to get rid of it. You can’t have frontline equipment that’s in the garage all the time.” 

If fleet managers wait too long, electronic parts can prove hard to find and software updates may be unavailable. “Sometimes, technology companies are just gone, so it’s very important to watch that amortization schedule and turnover equipment at the right time,” Leonard cautions. 

Aéroports de Montréal provides a structure for the process. “Once we establish our needs for the future, we sit with our airport planning group and establish a 10-year plan for the future, incorporated with all the changes on the airfield,” Marchand explains. “We do this because we have to keep delivering the service. We have to be ready when the time comes.” 

Even after decades of experience in airport maintenance and fleet management, Leonard studies what colleagues are doing to learn more about equipment planning. But he also knows there is no set recipe for optimum fleet management. What works in Toronto may not work in Montréal. “Be flexible and have an open mind,” he advises others. “Do a lot of benchmarking to see what’s going on in the industry.” 

When possible, Leonard prefers to buy batches of the same brand of equipment—in part to streamline the spare parts needed. “With a diversified fleet, the key goal is to have ample parts for your front line critical/operational equipment, while using your stock room space wisely,” he says. “Don’t be shy to have local machine shops fabricate specialized parts that have long lead times and high price tags from the manufacturer.”

Preventative maintenance is key to making sure machines are ready to go when needed, adds Robichaud. Even if an airport receives just one or two snows a year, it’s important to be ready to plow the airfield quickly.

Dollars & Sense

“The idea is to replace a piece of equipment, which is an asset, before it becomes a liability,” says Robichaud. 

He explains that this is more of an issue than in the past, because engines have been upgraded to new standards and the industrial equipment airports use must now meet the same standards as highway equipment, which is more complex and expensive.

To address such issues, Marchand says that it’s vital to make sure enough funding is identified for replacements as equipment nears the end of their lifecycles. At YUL, he performs an annual analysis and makes associated price adjustments on each piece of equipment every year. He assesses the equipment’s physical condition and balances that with how much money has been spent on it since it came into the fleet and how much was spent in the last five years of use. 

The process aligns the team about whether equipment needs to be replaced, and it works with every type of equipment, he reports.  

Another thing these professionals agree on is not automatically accepting the lowest bid. “We will go to a quality price, but a quality machine, first,” Marchand explains. “I’m proud of that.” 

YUL Equipment Fleet 

• 5 Kenworth trucks with Epoke spreaders
for liquid deicing product 

• 7 Epoke spreaders for solid deicing product 

• 11 snow blowers for runways and aprons: J.A. Larue; Oshkosh

• 11 loaders: John Deere; Volvo

• 16 Oshkosh snowplows (24-foot) 

• 16 MB sweepers (22-foot)

• 6 small tractors equipped with sweepers: Multihog; Bobcat; John Deere

• 5 John Deere tractors equipped with push blades 

• 4 graders: John Deere; Volvo

• 1 John Deere bucket bulldozer

• 1 Caterpillar backhoe loader

• Plow blades from Metal Pless


YUL Snow Removal Team

• 67 heavy equipment operators

• 16 light equipment operators

• 16 workers

• 8 team leaders

• 5 supervisors

• 9.5 mechanics

• 1 technical advisor

Beyond price and quality, he solicits input from other airports that have used a particular piece of equipment. He also analyzes reliability and service data. Based on his experience, Marchand believes that good equipment management practices are in place all across Canada. “It’s very important,” he says. “Make sure that you identify replacements in the right year, because you will spend a lot of money if you don’t know; and you will have downtime of critical equipment that you don’t wish.” 

Like Marchand, Robichaud sees scientific, methodical practices at a variety of airports. “The majority are using maintenance programs,” he reports. “The software tracks any repairs, as well as fuel and labor costs. If it starts to hit the bottom line, they know they have to replace it.” 

Team Approach

At YUL, a working group meets three to four times a year to make sure equipment aligns with airport planning. This has been more of a challenge lately, as the airport is growing faster than expected, and capacity is a challenge. “The main thing is to be ready to service the airlines and other partners as expected,” says Marchand. “If we’re not ready, we’re in trouble”. 

He consequently depends on airport planning to guide the analyses. “There are many people around us that know many things. That helps us all in this process,” he reflects.

For Leonard, equipment operators are an important source. “Consult the users when you put the piece into service,” he recommends. “Consult the users for the placements of radios, that type of thing. This is very important.” 

Mechanics and operators were consequently included in conversations about recent snowplow purchases. While some executives see shiny, new equipment at conferences and assume it will be a great fit back home, Leonard is happy that YUL waits to include the end users in the selection process.

“We have them drive the equipment at local airports or have one shipped here,” he explains. “This is motivational for the employees, too.” 

According to Robichaud, the difference between a good airport fleet manager and a less-than-ideal manager is respect for the equipment. “If you want a good operator, look for a farm kid. He was brought up to respect equipment. If he broke it, he had some explaining to do,” quips Robichaud. 

For quick equipment reviews and strategic advice, Leonard keeps handy a stack of business cards from every person in Canada with his job. “I find that important,” he says. “At our level, we’re not competing. We’re just trying to get things done.” 

He also maintains close contact with equipment companies to learn about problems other airports are experiencing with products. On the flipside, Leonard keeps in close contact with his airport peers to learn about issues they are having with equipment suppliers. “I check with other airports first, to see if they are having the same problem,” he explains. “Sometimes, we can approach the problem together and get things done.”

Bracing for a Storm

Sylvain Marchand, assistant director of ground maintenance and mobile equipment for Aéroports de Montréal, offers these tips for other airports planning for a major winter weather event: 

• Keep continually aware of weather forecasts five days in advance

• Verify inventories of deicing products

• Hold daily conference calls and forecast updates

• Prepare and verify condition of equipment

• Remove snow without interruption, from the first flake to the last



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