Terminal Expansion at Kansas City Int’l Prompts New Snow Removal Strategy and Equipment

Terminal Expansion at Kansas City Int’l Prompts New Snow Removal Strategy and Equipment
Author: 
Kristen Rindfleisch
Published in: 
March-April
2024

Kansas City International Airport (MCI) recently underwent a transformative expansion, not only reshaping its terminal but also nearly tripling the size of its apron. In true domino fashion, those improvements created the need for a whole new approach to snow removal.

Previously, the apron spanned about 2.5 million square feet. Now, it serves as the designated aircraft deicing area, and snow removal crews have an additional 3.5 million square feet of new apron to clear as well.

Kansas City Aviation Department, which owns and operates MCI, reallocated personnel to accommodate the new terminal and ramp configuration. “We had to change our strategy a bit with how we break up the snow crews,” says Deputy Operations Manager Jacob Spain. “We had to increase our numbers of folks that can clear snow on the apron spaces as opposed to the runways.”

facts&figures

Project: Updated Snow Removal Strategies
& Equipment

Location: Kansas City (MO) Int’l Airport

Cost: $6.4 million

Funding Sources: Bonds; airport revenue

Motivation for Changes: New terminal & apron configuration

Key Components: New snow melters, loaders,
skid steers, snow blades

Snow Melters: Trecan Combustion

Loaders & Skid Steers: John Deere

Supplier & Supporting Dealer: Murphy Tractor

Snow Blades: Metal Pless

Dealer: American Equipment

Drain Tiles: EJ

Key Benefits: Improved snow removal strategy; increased efficiency; versatile, operator-friendly new equipment

As 2024 got underway, the airport was running two crews for ramps and one for runways/taxiways. The Operations team plans to continue adjusting its resource allocation as additional snow events occur. New removal equipment and updated communications strategies are other key changes.

To measure its effectiveness during winter weather events, the Aviation Department developed a key performance indicator for snow removal operations based on FAA Advisory Circular 150/5200-30B for runway clearance times. “For our level of operations, we should be able to clear our Priority 1 areas in approximately 30 minutes,” shares Operations Manager Luke Mawhirter. “That’s a goal that we’re shooting for.”

Finding the Right Equipment

The new terminal layout and additional apron pavement left less open areas to pile snow, which meant MCI had to determine what to do with snow after crews removed it.

“The only options that we had really were melting it or loading it up in trucks and hauling it off and dumping it somewhere else,” Mawhirter explains. “And hauling it away is not efficient. That’s not the best use of resources. So snow melters were really our only feasible option.”

Fleet Manager Aaron Kaden credits his predecessor Kenny Williams for helping find the right equipment at the annual Snow Symposium in Buffalo, NY. Based on his research, the Kansas City Aviation Department invested in five snow melters and a variety of removal equipment.

Specifically, the new additions to MCI’s fleet are:

  • four Trecan 135-PD snow melters for apron areas;
  • one Trecan CT-15-LP snow melter for the top of the parking garage;
  • four John Deere 844L Mid-Size Wheel Loaders, each with a Metal Pless MaxxPro 44-foot blade;
  • four John Deere 644X Hybrid Mid-Size Wheel Loaders with Metal Pless 20-foot blades, which crews use to push snow and load snow melters;
  • two John Deere 244L Compact Wheel Loaders, each with a Metal Pless 13-foot blade; and
  • one John Deere 332G Skid Steer with a blade for clearing the top of parking garage and loading snow melters.

The first measurable snow since the new terminal opened fell during Thanksgiving weekend 2023, providing a great initial test run for the snow removal teams. Despite the modest amount of accumulation, Mawhirter notes that without the new melters, it would have taken crews multiple days and possibly weeks to remove all the snow from the apron. 

Melting vs. Hauling

The Trecan snow melters MCI uses employ submerged combustion—a technology developed by Exxon Mobil in the late 1950s. The equipment pushes air over a burner and then releases the heated air below the surface of water in the melting tank to raise the water’s temperature by just two to three degrees Fahrenheit above freezing. “Because it’s a direct energy transfer—the warm air comes in contact with the water in the melting tank—it is about 98% thermal efficient,” reports Trecan Sales Manager David MacEachern. “Just about every ounce of heat in a gallon of diesel fuel goes into warming that water to melt the snow in the process. We’re not wasting energy.”

The submerged combustion process provides the benefits of mechanical agitation without any mechanical components to create it, he explains. This eliminates the risk of auger jams or nozzle clogs because agitation is created solely with air. “What’s amazing about the technology is it’s so simple,” MacEachern remarks. “We’ve perfected using that technology as part of our snow melters, but it’s pretty straightforward—you’re pushing air over a burner to heat air, and the air heats the water to melt snow.”

Typically, water is needed in the melting tank to begin the process. However, Trecan’s 135-PD and CT-15-LP models both have the Snowstart option, which allows operators without access to water to start the burner and blower at about 20% capacity, and then add snow slowly until the melting tank contains enough water to run at full operation. Remote communication technology allows the manufacturer to help troubleshoot operational issues on these units.

Trecan considers the four 135-PDs purchased for MCI workhorse melters for any North American airport. The model number refers to their 135-ton-per-hour melting capacity, and PD indicates that they are portable diesel units. MacEachern notes that 135-PDs are especially useful around gates and ramp areas. Trecan also offers stationary in-ground models that run on natural gas, diesel or fuel oil, but MCI chose portable melters for flexibility and convenience.

Each 135-PD can melt the equivalent of 25 tandem dump truck loads of snow per hour. “But you don’t have the trucks hauling snow away and then coming back to be reloaded and waiting to be loaded,” MacEachern comments. “It’s the most efficient, effective and safest way to get rid of snow, and you’re not double handling it.”

Operators park the 135-PDs over storm drains and load snow into their 16-foot-long carbon steel melting tanks. After the snow is melted, water flows out at a rate of up to 540 gallons per minute into the storm drains and then to a treatment facility. When the melters are placed at an aircraft deicing area, like on the old terminal apron at MCI, water drains into the glycol retention system for capture and reuse.

The airport’s other Trecan unit—a CT-15-LP—can melt 15 tons of snow per hour. “CT” stands for commercial trailer and “LP” indicates low profile. It is a shorter unit typically placed on top of the parking structure (or other areas with limited space) and loaded with a skid steer.

Trecan melting equipment is now a critical part of the airport’s snow removal strategy.
Trecan melting equipment is now a critical part of the airport’s snow removal strategy.

The Kansas City Aviation Department is not alone in its choice to use Trecan snow melters. More than 20 major airports in North America operate them as well. After 35 years in business, the family-owned company has delivered more than 1,000 units worldwide from its headquarters near Halifax, NS.

This type of equipment is not exclusive to airports. In fact, New York City uses more than two dozen Trecan snow melters to help clear roads. “When a major [snow] event happens, they plow the main arteries and push the snow to the side streets, and then take out our snow melters and melt the snow afterhours,” says MacEachern. “The snow is gone when rush hour starts in the morning.”

Familiar Favorites

John Deere loaders are another mainstay of MCI’s snow removal fleet. Having options in three different size classes (12,000 to 75,000 pounds) helps crews perform a variety of jobs around the airport. “Although each machine has a specific purpose, they share many of the same features, such as a hydraulic quick coupler that allows the operator to change attachments from the operator seat,” notes Scott Bayless, regional sales manager with John Deere dealer Murphy Tractor.

All three size classes include an automatic system for continuous lubrication, which allows airports to operate the machines without stopping every 10 hours for maintenance. The units also have John Deere’s telematics system, JD Link, for real-time reporting to the company’s Operations Center. This allows remote monitoring by MCI’s fleet manager and connection with Murphy Tractor for remote diagnostics and/or on-site repairs. “The system helps reduce the amount of time required to make repairs and ultimately the time that machine is out of service,” Bayless explains. JD Link also sends email and text alerts when a unit is within 50 hours of needing routine maintenance, which helps the airport’s fleet manager avoid unplanned downtime. 

The compact 244L loader features Stereo Steering (traditional and rear-tire) for a tighter turning radius. The mid-size 644 X-Tier is distinguished by its E-Drive powertrain, which uses a diesel engine that powers an electric motor to maintain efficiency with a constant engine RPM. “This provides for much lower fuel consumption, lower noise levels and peak performance at all times,” Bayless explains, noting that the E-Drive powertrain influenced MCI to choose John Deere equipment. The 844L, tailored for snow removal, features special snow tires with small tread blocks and siping. Additionally, it is equipped with front and rear differential locks that engage automatically when wheel slip is detected, to deliver equal traction and power to all four wheels.

With different sizes of loaders at its disposal, MCI can strategically deploy specific units during winter storms. The 244L is preferred in tight terminal areas because it’s compact and has a hydraulically adjustable snow blade that can adjust to a straight, box or angled position. The mid-size 644 X-Tier can load piled snow into the melters with a snow pusher or 4-cubic-yard bucket. The 844L, with a 40-foot-wide snow blade, serves a similar role but on a larger scale. “The 844L’s primary task will be to bulk load large amounts of snow away from the ramp and taxiway and pile it to be melted,” Bayless says. “These will be the workhorses of the snow events by moving massive amounts of snow in each pass.”

To prepare MCI crews to operate the new equipment, the Aviation Department arranged three training sessions over 18 months. “With each training session, personnel from the local Murphy Tractor branch built on information and skills learned from previous sessions to the point that each operator was confident and competent on the machine’s features and capabilities,” Bayless remarks. One feature of the 644 and 844 that aided training is the ability to set the controls so that every time a machine is started, it defaults back to ideal parameters set by application specialists. This way, crews know that the machine will operate the same way each time it is started.

Bigger, Better Blades

Metal Pless blades for the new John Deere loaders feature a 24-foot center mouldboard with 10-foot wings on each side, which help operators clear large areas faster. “They are the largest hydraulic-powered wing plows in the world,” reports Jason Whittemore, executive vice president of Metal Pless. The hydraulic wings allow operators to change the positioning of the plow. “It is capable of scooping snow forward or backward, windrow left or right and also has the option to
operate a wing to maneuver around obstacles to clear snow with fewer passes.”

The blades feature the company’s patented Rubber Live Edge Technology, which adapts to uneven ground and protects infrastructure such as inset lighting. The Metal Pless MaxxPro 44-foot blade is specifically designed to clear snow from gates, aprons, taxiways, deicing areas and other areas crucial to maintaining operations during winter storms.

According to Whittemore, the plow blades will easily last MCI upwards of 10 years. “We have been building blades since 1976,” he remarks. “Every now and then, we receive pictures from customers with blades that are 15 to 20 years old and still working very well.”

The MaxxPro models are designed to be operator-friendly, with features like level indicators that help maintenance personnel correctly position the plow. “When considering how hard it is to hire qualified labor, having equipment that was built tough, durable and with user-friendly features is a huge upside,” Whittemore comments.

Plows with rubber-edged blades help protect new in-pavement lighting.
Plows with rubber-edged blades help protect new in-pavement lighting.

Like Trecan did for the snow melters and John Deere for the loaders, Metal Pless provided on-site training for the new plow blades.

Environmental Considerations

Near MCI’s old terminal, where crews plow snow that is likely contaminated with glycol from aircraft deicing, water drains into the glycol retention stormwater system. The new terminal, on the other hand, is surrounded by 4,638 linear feet of 6922 top flange trench grates from EJ, with single, double and triple catch basins to drain glycol-free stormwater into the 60-acre Berlin Reservoir at the airport.

Airlines that deice aircraft on MCI’s new terminal apron are required to use a special recovery vehicle to collect spilled glycol. The Aviation Department asks carriers to deice in designated areas but acknowledges that certain aircraft may require minor deicing on the apron.

Using snow melters instead of dump trucks for snow removal was another decision with noteworthy environmental benefits. That switch saves fuel and significantly reduces emissions, aligning with other sustainability practices at MCI. While most of the new snow removal equipment burns diesel fuel, the four John Deere 644X loaders are hybrids. 

Challenges Faced and Overcome

Finding suitable locations for the large snow melters was no easy task for engineers when designing the new terminal and apron. The semi-trailer-sized units require substantial space, plus additional room nearby to pile snow before it is loaded into the melters. The new equipment also needed easy access to storm drains and other infrastructure support.

New taxiway configurations and lighting on the apron required modifications to plowing equipment. The installation of dual-use lanes with in-pavement lighting for taxiway center and outer taxi lane centerline lights meant snow removal crews needed to use rubber-edged blades. “We can’t scrape a metal blade along the ground because it could possibly do damage to the plow or the taxiway centerline fixture—or both,” Mawhirter explains.

Adjustments also had to be made to prioritize snow removal areas based on the traffic flow of the new terminal, and to provide access to the new deicing zones. This involved a thorough review of equipment and planning strategies and will continue to be adjusted as snow events occur. “We’re still kind of experimenting with it and seeing what’s the most efficient way to do this,” Spain says. “We’ve had some question marks that we’ve had to address and will continue to address in the future.”

As of late January, the Aviation Department had not hired more snow removal employees. But with time and more snow events under its belt, the team at MCI will be better able to determine if the current workforce and equipment will be sufficient. “We’re exploring the potential for different types of equipment, whether it be combination units or other pieces that could possibly make it a labor multiplier, where one person is doing the work of two operators,” Mawhirter comments.

Another change associated with the new terminal was the addition of more common-use gates. While the old terminals had two (primarily used for Customs flights and emergencies), the new terminal has 11 for wider use. This substantially increased the need for crews to clear the gate envelopes, presenting new challenges managing snow and ice in small, constrained areas near the terminal. So far, the two John Deere 244L compact loaders are fitting the bill.

Hydraulic wings on Metal Pless blades help operators change blade positions to clear tight areas near the terminal.
Hydraulic wings on Metal Pless blades help operators change blade positions to clear tight areas near the terminal.

The Aviation Department is also actively exploring the option of pre-treating airfield pavements with a liquid brine to address current challenges associated with scattering solid deicer granules. The prospect for this potentially cutting-edge change is still evolving, pending FAA approval.

Drain systems from EJ carry spent deicing fluid to the glycol retention and treatment system.
Drain systems from EJ carry spent deicing fluid to the glycol retention and treatment system.

A Learning Experience

As MCI fleet manager, Kaden advises other airport operators considering snow melters to make sure the units are compatible with Jet A fuel and to position them near a Jet A pump to streamline the refueling process.

It’s also important to remember that every airfield has different weather, wind conditions, demand and equipment. “There’s not one universal method that’s going to work for snow removal at every airport,” Mawhirter comments. In addition, he suggests being open to change—especially during construction projects. “Never continue doing things a certain way just because that’s the way they’ve always been done. Always be innovative; always be exploring ways to do things better.”

Part of MCI’s continuous improvement process is evaluating current airfield equipment. Older brooms and plows used on runways and taxiways might be upgraded next. “Seeing how often delays are caused by snow, having the most efficient and productive equipment is a must,” says Whittemore.

As an equipment dealer, the most significant lesson Bayless learned was the importance of learning the obstacles that a particular airport needs to overcome and working to find solutions. “Even if it means thinking outside the box,” he reflects. 

Recent changes to the terminal at MCI forced a departure from the airport’s “old way” of approaching snow removal. The new equipment and strategies it developed seem to rising to the challenge.

Subcategory: 
Operations

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