There’s no business like snow business….

There’s no business like snow business….

When you think of winter you immediately think of cold and frosty mornings, log fires and snowy scenes… unless you work in an airport that is!

The pavement areas at Southampton airport (that’s runway, taxiway and stands to the un-initiated) cover an area equivalent to the size of 22 Wembley Stadiums so imagine having the task of clearing these areas of snow and ice so our passengers can continue with their journey. This mammoth task requires the hard work and dedication of an army of airport operations staff, as well as volunteers from other departments, to get the airport back to business as usual should the snow fall.

Most people don’t realise that preparations for the winter season begin when most normal people are enjoying those long lazy summer evenings and holidays; we don’t just spend all day thinking of clever blog titles… honest!

Preparations start in June with the production of an airport snow plan, or our ‘bible’ as it’s affectionately known. The good book covers the finite details of how we are going to tackle snow fall whether its 1cm or 10. Other details include where we will clear first, how we will clear it and how long it should take. It’s a very comprehensive document produced in collaboration with our ground handlers and airlines. This document takes Five months to produce ahead of its release to the rest of the airport on the 1st November.

So, why can’t we recycle the same document year after year and why does it take so long to produce? After every snow event, it is important that we learn lessons so we can be even more efficient the next time. The updated document contains our learning from the previous year’s operation. Early preparation also means that we can ensure the infrastructure is in place to make sure snow and ice are cleared with minimal disruption to the operation and your holiday or business trip.

So how do we begin to tackle the 895 tonnes of snow lying on the runway? The snow clearing process starts way before any snow has even started to fall. We get regular updates from the Met Office, the frequency of which increase when snow is being tracked through the area. We have a manager on call 24/7 ready to react and co-ordinate the early stages of snow and ice removal. We call them our Snowman (see what we did there?!) And who says Airside Ops don’t have a sense of humour! Although Snowman is actually short for Snow-Manager.

The Snowman alerts the rest of the team and will give the order to anti ice the runways and taxiways to try and prevent the snow settling. Prevention is better than cure! Sometimes though, the snow will settle and the snowman will begin ringing round to get our ops teams and volunteers out of bed and into a cold and frosty airport to begin work. I will let you in on a little secret though; it’s every boys dream to drive a tractor, so we don’t mind the rude awakening!

An important factor when deciding how to tackle the snow is to identify the type of snow. Is it wet or is it dry? Wet snow is the slushy and icy stuff that is not ideal for snowball production and really hurts when it hits you in the side of the head (flashbacks from childhood!) and dry snow is the nice light fluffy stuff which is conducive to good skiing. The aviation industry thrives on numbers and statistics and the numbers below give you an idea of the task in hand. When you read the stats, you need to bear in mind that snow cannot be swept just once, it needs to be swept off the paved areas and then moved away to a safe area.

• Dry or fluffy snow can carry a weight of 300kg per cubic metre
• Wet snow can carry a weight of 1 Tonne per cubic metre
• 152,516 sqm of pavement will need to be clear of snow and ice to safely resume flying

So while children all over the land are hoping for a white Christmas, we’re secretly performing anti snow dances here, but if they don’t work, rest assured we’re ready! In 2010 when we experienced the heaviest snowfall in recent years, we were one of the first snow affected airports to resume operation.  Since then we’ve invested in even more snow clearing equipment such as tractors and other less exciting, but equally as effective, stuff that will help us get you on your way as soon as possible.