Winter at PNE: Preparing for Snowstorms

Northeast Philadelphia Airport (PNE) is Pennsylvania's busiest general aviation airport, handling an average of 319 aircraft movements (takeoffs and landings) per day. Since 120 based aircraft and several commercial tenants call PNE home as well as the daily transient users, it is imperative to keep the airport open during winter snow and ice events.
Preparation for the snow season begins well in advance. “We hold preseason training on one Saturday in October before the winter season begins, where we bring everyone in and have them operate the snow equipment to refresh themselves and learn about equipment they may not have used before. We then continue training during November and early December on regular workdays,” says PNE Airport Operations Manager John Brewer. “It is imperative the drivers are really good at using the equipment before having to use it during an actual snow or ice event.”
When a snowstorm is definitely on the way, the PNE maintenance crew will spend the day before making sure all of thePNE Equipment vehicles have fuel and that trucks are loaded with the necessary solutions and ready to use. At the same time, PNE Operations will monitor the storm to determine when it will start, whether it will be a dry or wet snow, and whether sleet or freezing rain is expected. The amount of moisture content of the snow determines if it is a dry or wet snow. Knowing the moisture content assists in determining the type of solution to use on the airfield and when to use it. 
Because the temperature of the pavement can sometimes differ significantly from that of the air, PNE has pavement sensors installed on its runways and taxiways. These sensors aid in determining when to apply solution to the pavement. That application is normally just prior to the snow falling and if the pavement is warmer than 26 degrees. The solution helps to keep the snow from bonding to the surface. If the weather is icy, the airport uses small white pellets, which, when applied on top of snow or ice, melt through the snow or ice. When the liquid solution is applied, is works its way through the holes to the pavement to break the bond, allowing the team to use plows and a broom to clear the snow or ice.
Snow duty crews arrive one-to-two-hours before the snow begins. Snow removal typically begins once the snow has accumulated to half an inch in depth. If the rate of snowfall is light to moderate, the crew will plow all of the taxiways and runways, a process takes about two hours. Based on the intensity of the snowfall, employees will be on the airfield removing snow from a couple of hours up to six hours at a time. If the snow is coming down hard, PNE Operations might make a decision to close one runway and some taxiways and focus on keeping only one runway and the main taxiways open. 
Snow Removal EquipmentThe snow removal team currently consists of 10 people: six members who work on the airside and four working on parking lots and roads. A snowstorm of eight inches or more normally results in having to close the airport to allow employees to rest before returning to the field. Once snow removal resumes, the airport can normally be reopened within two hours. If PNE closes, the planes will be redirected to PHL or other local airports. The snow crews at PNE remain at the airport well after the snow stops to assure both runways and all taxiways are safe to use.
PNE has five large trucks with 20-foot plows, one large broom, and two solution (one solid and one liquid) trucks for use on the airfield. For deep snow, the crew has two snow blowers that take in the snow and throw it out into the fields. For landside, there are three pickup trucks with small plows and one salt truck.
The snow removal process requires communication between multiple organizations: PNE tenants, the FAA, and PHL. Operations frequently communicates with the FAA, particularly the local FAA at PNE tower, informing them of what they are doing and when, as well as receiving updates on arriving planes. “We usually send an e-mail to all of our corporate tenants here at PNE asking for their flight schedules for the day of the snow,” said Brewer. “We'll plan our snow removal around their schedule because we want to make sure the runways are open so that their planes can arrive and depart safely.”


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Christine Ottow
Director of Strategic Communications
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Heather Redfern
Public Affairs Manager
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