Even if the snow is coming down incredibly fast or there is a storm, Copenhagen Airport is rarely forced to bow to Nature and close for a short period of time. This is also thanks to the work of the Airside Support crew. Airside Support’s staff of 200 handle maintenance of the airport area, including the runways, so air traffic can continue normal operations uninterrupted, even under extreme weather conditions.
Before the cold winter season arrives, Airside Support staff put in many hours of practice and training, so each and every crew member knows exactly what his or her job is in various situations, e.g. in heavy snow.
"If we want to ensure air traffic continues to schedule, even in extreme weather situations, everyone in Airside Support has to know exactly what to do. That's why staff receive theoretical and practical training during the year, so everyone feels prepared for the changing weather of autumn and winter: storms, rain, snow and freezing rain," says Dan Meincke, head of Airside Support. Airside Support is a department with a staff of 200, 80 of whom are specialists in, for example, clearing snow off runways and aprons.
The right equipment
Another factor in keeping the airport open 24 hours a day, even in heavy snowfall, is the right equipment.
"It takes us 20 minutes to clear a runway 3600 metres long and 45 metres wide. The aprons are almost as important as the runways, and we have personnel specially trained to ensure we can maintain normal operations when it snows. Clearing the edges and corners of three million square metres can take weeks, since you have to clear away the snow before more comes," says Meincke.
It takes years of experience to learn how to clear snow in the areas where the aircraft are, and only the best trained crew members are allowed to drive on the runways. To clear snow off runways, sweepers ride in convoys of eight or, if necessary, fourteen. Airside Support has a total of 110 vehicles, including 22 large snowplows and snowblowers.
Knowing the weather
In difficult weather conditions, the airport uses measuring equipment, machines and common sense to decide whether it is safe to fly. The airport had to shut down twice last winter for short periods of time, once because of a heavy freezing rain.
"In a situation like the one we had last winter, when 50 centimetres of snow fell in 24 hours, you have to have your timing right. We get continual updates from the Danish weather service and our own measuring stations located along the runways. Based on that information, we predict how the situation will develop. These predictions help us decide which equipment and what number of people to send out into the 'field' in the given weather situation," says Meincke, and adds: "With the right equipment and a well-trained crew, Copenhagen Airport is ready to handle even difficult weather situations, but it's important to remember that safety always comes first. The planes aren't allowed to fly unless it's well safe."