On Tuesday morning, Wichita Eisenhower National Airport marshaled all 18 airport grounds and fleet employees, and its 11 snow plows, brooms and deicing trucks to clear the commercial passenger airport’s three runways of snow and ice.
But there was no snow or ice.
Instead, the airport was preparing for the coming winter season, and familiarizing staff with how the airport keeps the runways clear in ice and snow storms so planes can take off and land.
It was a dress rehearsal for a major winter event, said Brad Christopher, assistant director of airports for the Wichita Airport Authority.
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The roughly three-hour exercise Tuesday was done in a way not to affect arriving and departing passenger jets, with one runway closed at a time.
It was a coordinated dance between its massive lime-green and yellow-colored trucks that included two plows and four broom trucks, which sweep the snow and ice off the pavement using 21-foot-long cylindrical broom heads.
Each of the trucks on the runway is staggered beside and behind one another so there’s no wasted movement as they make their way up and down the airport’s 7,301-foot-long east, and 10,301-foot-long west runways, both of which are 150-feet wide. Crews are also extra careful to clear the pavement where aircraft turn from Eisenhower’s taxiways onto its runways, said Scott Loesch, airport grounds and fleet manager.
In all, the airport has five plows, two of which can also spread sand on the runways, two deicing trucks and four broom trucks, two of which are also equipped with snow blowers.
“All the equipment you will see today, I don’t think there’s anything out there that costs less than $1 million,” Christopher said in a briefing with reporters. “All of those things are important assets for us.”
Christopher said staffing for snow and ice removal varies on the type and duration of the storm. If it’s a fast-moving storm expected to blow through Wichita quickly, then the airport will have all its staff available at once to work to keep the runways open. But if it’s a storm that could last more than a couple of days, it will break its staff into smaller groups and stagger them so the airport can have around-the-clock snow removal.
He said in long-duration storms, crews spend no more than four hours behind the wheel of their equipment before they are required to take a break for up to 30 minutes.
The airport also has a dormitory set up to allow crews to take short naps, or sleep on-site if a winter storm is really bad.