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Plowing the way at Pearson Airport


Snow, ice and wind can ground planes at Toronto's Pearson International Airport. Click on the photo for a closer look at Pearson's snow operations
Snow, ice and wind can ground planes at Toronto's Pearson International Airport. Click on the photo for a closer look at Pearson's snow operations

Andrea Stockton, staff writer

February 25, 2011 — Heavy snow can have an impact on flights in and out of Toronto. Snow removal crews start planning well ahead of the winter season.

A runway typically takes 15 minutes to clear
A runway typically takes 15 minutes to clear

There's still a few weeks of the winter season left and that means there's the potential for more snow and freezing temperatures.

While most Canadians like to escape the winter season all together, the weather can play a significant role on travel plans.

George Fullerton is the Technical Inspector, with the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) and says pre-planning for the winter season is crucial.

“In the fall, the runway teams are out there practicing all the routes, it's a pre-determined route when we go out and carry out the same practice.”

Fullerton adds that plows are then on the move as soon as the snow begins to fall. Even a couple of centimetres requires preventative action.

“There's a lot of coordination and pre-planning that goes into any snow event here. We coordinated with the apron management unit for gate closures so we can stockpile the snow. The runway team coordinates runway closures to get on the runways and clear the surfaces. We had security staff hired to check in our contract and resources and we have a lot of supervisors that oversee the whole operation.”

The entire area that crews clear snow from at Toronto's Pearson International Airport is 4.2 million square metres. And while that seems like a large area, Fullerton says it typically takes about 15 minutes to clear a runway. There are six crews that are dedicated to providing 24/7 snow clearing services for the runways and taxiways. Toronto Pearson has 89 pieces of snow clearance equipment and 14 snow melters.

Pearson International Airport is the busiest airport in Canada
Pearson International Airport is the busiest airport in Canada

When it comes to icy and cold conditions, Pearson International Airport has one of the largest deicing facilities in the world to keep airplanes safe from ice build up. It is 60 acres in size and can accommodate up to twelve aircraft at one time.

Ken Eastman, Director of Deicing Services Canada, Servisair, explains the deicing process.

“We use a type one ethelyne glycol mixture. It's heated to 180 degrees. That's used to remove contamination from the wings and critical surfaces of the aircraft. Then we will treat the aircraft with an anti-icing fluid, that will protect the aircraft while it's taxiing for departure. That fluid will then shear off during take off and take any contamination with it.”

Being the busiest airport in Canada, Pearson goes through a lot of deicing fluid in the winter months. But the airport disposes of the deicing mixture in an environmentally friendly way.

“All the fluid that's sprayed at this facility is collected through a geo-membrane,” explains Eastman. “We have catch basin systems which will store upwards of 15 million litres underground. We will then test that fluid and it will either go to an onsite glycol processing facility to be brought back to about 50 percent, then sold in after market products. Or the lower concentrations of the fluids we will meter it and send it out to the sanitary discharge. ”

If you're taking a trip somewhere, be sure to check the Flight Tracker for the status of your flight. You can also find out more on our Travel Information page.

With files from Matt Casey

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