Recently the RIC Snow Team took advantage of a scheduled runway closure to do some “hands-on” training in the heavy equipment used to clear snow, slush, and ice from the airfield. Being a “southern airport” in the mid-Atlantic region presents a challenge when it comes to snow removal operations. While the Richmond region only averages roughly 11″ of snow per season the reality is the Airport must remain ready to respond and keep flights moving. The snow removal fleet at RIC is impressive. Sammy Hodge is an Equipment Operator III in the Utility and Grounds department. He helps other employees train on the equipment which is unlike many of the other vehicles they’ve driven. Hodge says, “It’s pretty awesome equipment”. The plows, brooms and blowers are uniquely constructed for operating in the airfield environment. Equipped with highly visible lighting and ground-to-Tower radios, drivers communicate directly with the Air Traffic Control Tower to coordinate their movement around the runways, taxiways and ramps.
Snow equipment operators at RIC are comprised largely of airport maintenance personnel who break away from their primary duties to perform snow and ice control functions. Members of the Utility and Grounds, Electrical, Electronic, and Building maintenance, HVAC, and Automotive teams cross-train to operate the equipment safely and efficiently. The hours can be grueling. Shifts are 12-hours on, 12-hours off until the event is over. Full recovery following a major event can often take days as team members mix their normal duties with removal of snow piles, opening closed surfaces, and knocking down snow banks.
Other departments at RIC may not get to drive the big equipment but play an important role too! Baggage Handling Systems employees clear Terminal walks and pedestrian areas largely by hand. Airport fire fighters assist by plowing service roads around the complex. And Airport Operations personnel monitor and report on airfield surface conditions, assist the airfield plow teams, and staff the Snow Desk. It’s truly a team effort that requires everyone doing their part.
The blessing of being in a city that doesn’t typically experience a lot of snow is challenging when it comes to snow and ice control at the airport. Airport Operations Supervisor Dereck Tingfah says, “We just don’t get a lot of practice with it so it’s tough to get really good at it”. Cold weather cities like Buffalo, Detroit and Chicago have huge snow equipment fleets, and personnel resources to deal with the winter conditions at those airports. “I’m proud of our snow and ice control program at RIC. And I’m proud of our team who work so hard during those rare snow we experience here”.
So, next time you see snow in our forecast take a moment to think about the team that keeps RIC flying – the RIC Snow Team!