Avoiding Winter Woes

Carlton Braley

Few news reports grab my attention more than regulatory action within the industry. When I heard about airports being fined for activities related to winter operations, my first inclination was to find out what happened so my airport could avoid the same consequences. Then I began to worry whether our industry is somehow failing in this area. 

By following the news coverage and speaking with operators at facilities that had experienced similar fines, I learned that airports were being cited for not responding properly to unsafe winter conditions. The specifics ranged from unsatisfactory braking surfaces and not adequately clearing snow and ice from operating areas to insufficient staffing and failure to notify pilots about unsafe ground conditions. There was one common factor: not complying with regulations.

Carlton Braley
Carlton Braley is the assistant airport director of Operations and Facilities at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport and has presided as its “Snow Boss” for 21 winter seasons. Currently, he oversees operations, safety, security, maintenance and emergency preparedness for the airport. 
Braley is chairman of the International Aviation Snow Symposium Academic Committee and helped develop the Aviation Snow Academy. He is also certified by the state of New Hampshire as a fire officer and public manager.

We all know that regulations created and enforced by the FAA Office of Airports come in several different forms, and we need to comply with all of them — not just to remain compliant, but to ensure safe operations. 

FAR 139.313 requires certificated airports to prepare, maintain and execute a snow and ice control plan authorized by the FAA, according to the methods and procedures described in Advisory Circulars. Grant Assurance #19, Operations and Maintenance, requires airports to always operate in a safe and serviceable condition — including the need to notify pilots of any conditions outside normal operations.

A solid Airport Certification Manual (ACM) helps demonstrate that a facility is complying with FAA regulations. Specific responses for winter weather should be detailed in a Snow and Ice Control Plan (SICP), within the ACM. Airports that do not follow an approved SICP risk fines and other repercussions.

What We Did
Upon hearing the conditions that led to fines at other facilities, personnel at my airport reviewed our SICP. We asked ourselves many questions: Did the SICP need to be updated? Had airfield conditions changed since the plan was written and approved? Did we have the proper resources in place to meet response procedures? Were we accurately reporting airfield conditions in a timely manner? Most importantly, we asked ourselves if we were sufficiently staffed with properly trained personnel. 

Like many other facilities, my airport hires seasonal and temporary personnel for winter operations. Historically, we advertised for these positions in October and filled them by the first of December. Lately, we have had to begin the hiring process in August to ensure that we have enough properly trained personnel. In addition to Department of Homeland Security criminal background checks, we also require a state driver history, pre-employment drug and alcohol screening, physical ability assessments by a doctor, security training and Aircraft Operation Area driver training.

What You Can Do
Training is available to help airports remain in compliance — and, more importantly, safe — during winter operations. The International Aviation Snow Symposium (IASS), presented by the Northeast Chapter of the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE), is at the heart of this training. The event includes general sessions and break out discussions that specifically address winter operation topics such as condition reporting and runway braking co-efficiencies. One of the most popular sessions is “Lessons Learned,” where attendees learn from other airports’ success and mistakes.

The basic academic curriculum for winter operations written by the IASS committee includes training about Advisory Circulars, weather forecasting, snow and ice control equipment, sand and chemical use, various human factors and communications. An advance program provides management-level training about Advisory Circulars, ACMs, SICPs, funding/procurement procedures and human resource management. It also addresses the financial impacts and available reimbursements for winter operations.

Stay Safe
Historically, U.S. operators are aware of their obligations and have done an outstanding job keeping airports safe and operational during all types of weather. The facilities that were recently fined for infractions have already adjusted their plans, boosted training and improved operations. By doing so, they continue to improve the overall safety of winter air travel.  

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