Keeping the airport open requires effective and precise snow removal. In December–January, there is usually a strong crosswind at Ivalo Airport, which also presents challenges to flight operations and runway maintenance. The crosswind also blows snow onto the runway even when it is not snowing. The snowdrifts created by the wind need to be removed immediately.
Traditionally, lorries have been the only vehicles large and strong enough for use in snow removal on the apron and the runways. Snow removal equipment must be powerful enough to move large quantities of snow.
The equipment used for winter maintenance also needs to be serviced at other times of the year. With this in mind, Finavia aims to find solutions that are cost-effective and flexible. Ideally, the vehicles and equipment used for winter maintenance could also be used for maintenance operations in the summer.
During the past few years, Finavia has tested automation and flexible equipment solutions for runway maintenance. One such solution is the use of tractors, which have in recent years become available in increasingly large sizes. Larger sizes and greater mass create new potential uses for tractors.
“It has been interesting to work on developing new technology together with our stakeholders. Ivalo combines Finnish summer with harsh winters, which makes it an excellent testing ground for new solutions,” says Ivalo Airport Manager Jarmo Pyhäjärvi.
Ivalo Airport is currently piloting a snow removal system that combines a tractor with a sweeper blower. As the name implies, the tractor simultaneously sweeps snow and blows air on the runway. The combination has a total length of 14 metres and its operating width is four metres. In addition, a six-metre plough is attached to the front of the tractor. To operate this massive combination, the tractor needs to have an engine of nearly 300 horse power.
Automation always requires a human operator who understands machines and can interpret reports
Snow removal has traditionally been an area of work that calls for constant human involvement. Runway lights, for example, have always been cleaned by hand. Now, tractors fitted with snow removal equipment can be automated to follow closely defined routes on the runway. Finavia is participating in a pilot project that involves programming a tractor that runs on low-emission biofuel to clean runways independently. The cleaning of runway lights has also been tested using a special blower that cleans the lights gently but effectively.
“By combining modern equipment with highly competent personnel, we can ensure continued smooth travel at Finavia’s airports,” says Jani Jolkkonen, Senior Vice President, Airport Networks.
Sweeper blowers and snow ploughs are the most visible aspect of winter maintenance. However, before the cleaning of the runways can begin, it is necessary to review data on the current conditions. The adoption of new technology means that employees now need to review a tremendous amount of data collected on the runways and weather conditions. Without competent employees and tacit knowledge, data cannot be processed in a way that supports maintenance and the operability of the runways.
“Measuring and reporting runway conditions is a crucial aspect of winter maintenance. We also continuously monitor weather data and the effect of changes on the current situation. Runway conditions and incoming data determine what action we need to take,” Pyhäjärvi explains.
While some of the work can be automated, the success of winter maintenance operations relies on highly competent employees with years of experience in runway maintenance and the effects of weather conditions. The need to understand large amounts of information and the countless details related to maintenance operations means that the continuous training and induction of employees plays a key role now and in the future.
More information on Ivalo Airport
Ivalo Airport was added to Finavia’s airport network in 1943. It is the northernmost airport in Finland. Scheduled flights have been flown to Ivalo Airport since 1955.
Finavia has invested approximately MEUR 100 in airports in Lapland over the past few years. The aim is to improve the customer experience and service level and increase capacity as well as to ensure safe traffic as the number of flights and passengers grows. At Ivalo Airport, Finavia invests particularly in increasing the number of aircraft stands and expanding the terminal facilities.
More information on the investment programme at Finavia’s airports in Lapland.
More information on the upgrades at Ivalo Airport implemented in 2019.