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PowerSource: Monstrous Meltdowns - Boston Logan International Airport uses gigantic snow-melting machines to deal with major winter weather events

Loads of snow piled up high this past winter at one of the country’s busiest airports. Instead of trying to haul it away, the airport elected to use large, mobile machines to melt the mountains of white to keep runways open and minimize passenger service interruptions.

Boston Logan International Airport normally receives 109 centimeters (43 inches) of snow a year, but it received close to 152 centimeters (60 inches) last winter. Snow-melting machines are a fast and efficient way to eliminate large volumes of snow for many airports, parking lots, municipalities, and any other locations where there is insufficient space to pile it. And with rising trucking costs, loading and hauling the snow away is becoming increasingly less attractive.

To handle the huge volume of snow at its airport, Logan International uses 18 industrial snow melters, each capable of melting 122 to 163 metric tons (135 to 180 U.S. tons) of snow per hour. In addition, the airport operates 92 other pieces of snow-removal equipment.

“When we get a forecast for two or more inches of snow, it’s all hands on deck for us,” says David Ishihara, director of aviation services at Massport, the entity that runs Logan International Airport. “Whether we’re applying anti-icing fluids on runways or removing snow, we stay on the job around-the- clock until all of our airport pavements are clear and safely passable for aircraft.” Logan International Airport is one of the nation’s busiest airports, yet its 688-hectare (1,700-acre) footprint is the second smallest among the top 20 major U.S. airports.

“We don’t have the luxury of space where we can just pile snow up and wait for Mother Nature to take care of it,” Ishihara says. “And hauling snow off of the airport really isn’t an option in a dense urban environment like Boston. To give our airport size a sense of scale, if you think of a runway as a street, we are like a city. Logan has 49 lane miles (79 kilometers) of runway, 114 lane miles (183 kilometers) of taxiways, 19 miles (31 kilometers) of public roadway, and 150 acres (61 hectares) of aircraft parking ramp.”

“When it’s going to snow, we let each airline know exactly where we’re going to position each snow melter,” he adds. “Before the storm starts, we know who is going to run each piece of our snow-removal equipment and on which shift. Each operator works for six hours, then rests for six hours, works another six hours, and so on, until all the snow is removed and melted. The faster we can remove snow piles by melting them away, the faster we can return sections of pavement back to each airline so they can park the airplanes and ground-service equipment.”

Logan International Airport also has specialized pieces of snow-removal equipment that get in and around the 400-plus yellow, black, and red illuminated signs with letters or numbers on them that need to be visible to pilots taxiing or landing planes. There are also about 8,000 lights embedded in the pavement affixed to raised posts that need to be visible to pilots. White lights designate runways, and blue lights designate taxiways.

“Maintaining the airport and keeping it free of ice and snow takes a lot of work, and we’re lucky to have a very dedicated staff that operates and maintains all of our snow-removal equipment,” Ishihara says.

Some of the machines have been in service for a long time, and a few had to be repowered. For example, two Trecan snow melters have had engines replaced with John Deere PowerTech™ PVX 6.8L engines. Schmidt Equipment, a John Deere construction dealer headquartered in North Oxford, Massachusetts, performed the repowers.

Ron LaFond of Schmidt Equipment reports that both engine conversions went well, and the airport had very little downtime in the process. “We put the new engines on stands and mounted them to the platform of the snow melters,” says LaFond. “We worked with Bell Power, a John Deere engine distributor, to develop an engine enclosure and all of the wiring. We installed a Murphy switch to run the required regeneration.”

Keeping airport snow-removal equipment in good working order is key to Logan International Airport’s success.

“We have won the coveted Balchen Post Award numerous times for the job we do maintaining Logan International Airport,” Ishihara notes. In fact, Massport was recently awarded the Balchen Post Award for the 2017-2018 winter season by the American Association of Airport Executives. “It’s a job that takes a lot of preplanning and paying attention to hundreds of details. But at the end of the day, we have to make sure people get in and out of Boston on time and all of our travelers get home safely. We like to think that we help make that happen.”

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