Runway safety

Facility uses new resources to keep runways open during ‘challenging’ winter season, officials say

A multifunction runway snowplow and broom combination that was recently obtained by Sawyer International Airport works to clear the airport’s runway. This piece of equipment, along with de-icing chemicals, are being used by the airport for the first time this year. Officials said these tools are helping the airport address this winter’s challenging runway conditions. (Photo courtesy of Sawyer International Airport)

MARQUETTE — Staff at Sawyer International Airport have been fighting the elements this winter to keep runways open — and they now have some extra tools at their disposal, officials said.

“We have begun using runway deicing chemicals and now with a functioning (snow) broom, it’s providing us with better surface operating conditions,” Airport Manager Duane DuRay said.

The multifunction runway snowplow and broom combination, which was obtained this winter through a lease agreement with Macqueen Equipment of Minneapolis, is the first of its kind at the airport, officials said.

The snow broom was leased with an option for the county to eventually purchase because staff believed it would be “effective for preventing and removing ice, reducing runway closures and canceled flights,” according to a memo from airport staff to the Marquette County Board of Commissioners.

So far, airport officials say the snow broom is performing as expected.

“We took it out today and it improved the surface, doing exactly as anticipated,” DuRay said Tuesday.

The broom improves runway conditions by removing fine layers of snow and ice bonded to the pavement that are otherwise challenging to remove, he said.

This is important, DuRay said, as the Federal Aviation Administration has implemented more stringent runway reporting conditions in recent years.

With the new FAA regulations, ice, wet ice or ice with snow on the runway all can lead to automatic runway shutdowns, regardless of sand added to increase traction, which the airport had done in years past to avoid closures, he said.

“We were able to raise our runway condition numbers and improve our airfield so that the air carriers are more comfortable flying in and out of here,” DuRay said.

This has been beneficial, he said, as the area has experienced unusual weather this season that has led to challenging runway cleanup conditions.

“We have yet to see the usual below-zero weather,” he said. “It’s been in the mid-to-upper 20s and then into the lower-to-mid 30s — with very unusual weather patterns. We’re getting snow, sleet and rain all in one day.”

Recognizing the challenges seen this winter, DuRay commended the efforts of staff in all aspects of airport operations — from snow removal professionals and Transportation Security Administration officials, to air carrier staff and support and administrative employees.

DuRay said he also wants passengers to know that airport officials understand the difficulties of delayed and canceled flights during the winter season, and emphasized that staffers are working hard to minimize service disruptions.

“We’re working diligently on all fronts to try to improve our reliability during these challenging times,” he said.

Furthermore, DuRay noted his appreciation of passengers’ patience with the airport and staff through a challenging and unusual winter season.

“I just want to stress to our passengers — past and future — that we are definitely striving to provide them safe and reliable air transportation to the best of our abilities with these conditions and thank them for their patience and understanding as we adapt to this weather,” he said.