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Snowy December, staff opening has airport snow crew working long weeks

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Xavier Ward
Saturday, December 24, 2016

JANESVILLE—A snowy December and a staff opening has the plow crew at the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport working extra long hours.

“We haven't had a day off for the last three weeks,” said Kevin Smith, Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport maintenance crew director.

Because it's snowed every weekend for the past few weeks, the crew has had to work pretty much non-stop, he said.

Smith said he and every other crew member have been working 80- to 90-hour weeks.

The airport has three runways and four taxiways. The largest runway is 7,301 feet long and 150 feet wide, and the second-longest is 6,700 feet by 150 feet, Smith said.

That's more than five times as wide as a residential street, City Engineer Mike Payne said.

The airport crew must follow Federal Aviation Administration snow removal regulations. Snow piles along runways cannot exceed a reasonable height and must be far enough from the runways that lights lining the runways are visible to incoming aircraft, Smith said.

Snow removal starts with a standard 22-foot plow pushing snow to the sides of the runways, Smith said.

A front-end loader equipped with a snowblower is used to shoot snow away from the runways and taxiways. The blower can shoot snow up to 200 feet, he said.

It's a heavy piece of machinery. The front-end loader weighs about 30,000 pounds, and the blower adds 22,000 pounds.

Where the runways intersect, depending on wind direction, crews can end up blowing snow from one runway onto another, Smith said.

Plowing the whole airport takes around 120 staff hours, Smith said.

Planes can land in up to two inches of snow, but the maintenance crew tries to keep runways clear, he said.

Smith uses a specially equipped truck to measure runway conditions and communicate those conditions to pilots. When he brakes to a stop on the snowy runway, the truck's equipment transmits runway conditions to aircraft overhead.

The past few weeks have been particularly bad, Smith said. December had three consecutive snowfalls, and the four-person maintenance crew is one member short.

The crew monitors the runways around the clock, and the open position is the person who would do night checks, pushing that responsibility onto Smith, he said.

The maintenance crew is responsible for all tarmacs, parking lots and roads on the airport grounds, he said.

“The gentleman in the (air control) tower has to be able to get to the tower,” Smith said.



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