In order for air traffic to flow through Finland’s long and snowy winters, the winter maintenance equipment must be powerful.
“We have 13 minutes to clear a 3,500-metre long and 55-metre wide runway in one go. For this to succeed, we need very large and powerful machinery,” says Finavia’s Pyry Pennanen, Head of Airfield Maintenance at Helsinki Airport.
Beasts and monsters remove snow from runways
Helsinki Airport's winter fleet consists of approximately 200 vehicles and machines. The crown jewels of winter maintenance are the Vammas PSB 5500 sweeper blowers developed on site. The highly powerful and directionally stable multi-functional snow ploughs have been built for the conditions of Finnish airports.
The abbreviation PSB comes from the words plough, sweep, blow. In other words, the machine ploughs, brushes and blows snow. The figure 5500 indicates the working width of the machine: 5.5 metres.
“These 25-metre monsters remove snow deposits on runways and aprons. The blower at the back finishes the job,” explains Pennanen.
“Machines like these cannot be seen on Ring Road III.”
The power of the sweeper blower is matched by the high-performance snow blowers, which, thanks to their 1200–1500 horsepower, can blow snow up to a distance of 50 metres away from the runway.
“We call them monsters because they're so big and scary-looking.”
In snow removal operations, the beasts and monsters co-operate: first, the snow is ploughed off the runway with the sweeper blowers to the side of the runway. In order to finish the work and keep the runway clean, a giant snow blower follows the sweeper blowers, blowing snow far away from the runway.
The pace is high in winter maintenance and even the monsters do not have any time to sit idle on the runways.
“We have to be able to drive 30 kilometres per hour on a snow blower to keep up with our schedule. For big machines, it's a high speed, especially when the snow is hard and wet.”
Even smaller beasts have a function
Smaller beasts, such as wheel loaders, tractors, lorries and chemical sprayers, are also needed in winter.
“Not all of them can be classified as monsters due to their size or power, but they are very important for the operation of the airport.”
Thanks to the large but agile wheel loaders, piles of snow that have accumulated and been carried by the wind can be quickly removed from the apron. However, the operator must remain vigilant.
“There is a lot of traffic on the apron and vigilance is required from the operator of the wheel loader. Fortunately, our professionals have this under control, too.”
Chemical sprayers make sure that people do not slip on runways.
“We spray anti-icing agents as efficiently as possible by using two trucks with 25-metre wide spreaders that point to the sides like arms mounted behind them running side by side on the runway. When you're driving these vehicles, you have to know when to turn.”
Tractors equipped with front brushes ensure that planes that land on the runway can find their way to the passenger boarding bridge.
“When taxiing at the airport, the captain of the aircraft navigates by following the yellow lines painted on the tarmac. We brush the snow away to make these lines visible.”
Four-wheel drive SUVs and vans at the heart of aviation safety
In addition to the massive machines, the most important vehicles for the winter safety of the airport are standard four-wheel drive SUVs and vans. Winter maintenance shift managers use them to measure the friction on the runway surface and assess the conditions.
“The reporting of airport conditions is one of the core tasks of aviation safety. The maintenance of the runway is important, but it is at least as important to report the actual conditions to air traffic control and the aircraft. This way, everyone can prepare for winter conditions correctly.”