Winter Weather Q&A
With the winter weather upon us and the first frosts having been and gone, we spoke to our Airfield Operations and Engineering teams about the work that takes places to keep planes moving at Manchester Airport during wintery weather.
Why does snow/ice cause problems for the airport?
Snow and ice are two different events to treat.
During the winter months ice is a more frequent occurrence than snow. Ice is dangerous to aircraft, vehicles and people working out on the airfield so it must be treated with de-icing fluid.
In terms of snow, just 1mm of snow can have a serious impact on the runway. As with ice, any snow on the runways can be dangerous to aircraft and needs to be cleared.
There are 25 km of runways, taxiways and stands to clear at Manchester Airport. They all have to be cleared to keep aircraft moving. This can be complicated and takes time, especially when dealing with heavy or persistent snowfall.
Why does the airport sometimes have to suspend operations due to snow?
Snow has to be cleared for aircraft to operate safely. Sometimes the snow can be that heavy or persistent that the clearing teams need to wait for a break in the weather before they can tackle it again. Snow closures allow the snow to be cleared and areas such as Runway One and key taxiways and stands, are prioritised to get the airport open again as quickly as possible.
How does Manchester Airport prepare for snow and icy conditions?
Throughout the summer the airport carries out checks on all of its equipment – like an MOT. By the end of September all that equipment starts to be mobilised and training then starts with the various teams who help to use it during wintery conditions.
In the event of wintery weather being forecast, teams are on standby to support colleagues on shift. If snow or ice occurs the team will jump into action taking preventative measures where possible like anti-icing or reacting to when snow falls.
The airport has 180 trained personnel in clearing snow and winter operations.
How do you treat the runways and taxiways?
Using sophisticated forecasting, the operations team can look at possible snow and icy weather conditions. In the event of certain parameters being met, runways, taxiways and stands can be treated with anti-icing media.
How much equipment does Manchester Airport have to deal with such incidents?
The airport has around 50 vehicles to help deal with wintery weather.
This includes a number of specialist vehicles for de-icing runways, machines for de-icing stands, jet sweepers, super cutters for clearing snow dumps, a large number of tractors which use a mixture of brushes and ploughs and ramp hogs for clearing snow accumulations.
Why do aircraft require de-icing?
An aircraft wings and tail need to be free of ice/snow contamination to ensure they operate effectively. Therefore aircraft require de-icing ahead of take-off to operate safely.
Who looks after de-icing aircraft?
Each airline appoints its own de-icing contractor who is responsible for de-icing their aircraft. They are a third party company, not employed by Manchester Airport.
Why do people sometimes have to wait to have their aircraft de-iced?
De-icing can only happen once everyone is on-board the aircraft and the doors are shut. In previous years de-icing has been carried out on the stands where aircraft are parked. From this year, the airport will be trialling a new system where aircraft will taxi to a de-icing pad before making their way to the runway after being de-iced, which should reduce the amount of time aircraft have to wait.
So, as you can see ensuring the safe and smooth running of the airport during the winter months is a complicated business, involving a great deal of people. As the security and safety of all of our passengers is of vital importance, the team take it very seriously and always plan ahead to minimise the potential impact to operations.