MSP crews offer behind-the-scenes look at snow removal

7:32 AM, Mar 6, 2013   |    comments
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MINNEAPOLIS - While highway crews worked overnight to ease the morning commute, another effort was underway at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport.

Even with thousands of flights crossing the nation and hundreds of them at the MSP, bad weather rarely leaves planes grounded. 

"We have a lot more experience with it. We have a lot more times dealing with it than, say, Atlanta." said Jeff Mattson, assistant manager of Airside Operations at the Metropolitan Airport Commission. "But the other snow belt airports have a good program in place also."

At MSP, the program starts in a hidden room at the Lindbergh Terminal, where a staff of 15 works in what's called Airside Operations. Their job is to make sure flying is safe, watching everything from weather radar to flight schedules to ensure there's enough friction on the runways to take off and land.

Though they try to clear and treat the four runways at times when it won't disrupt flights, during storms like Tuesday's that's not always easy. Some morning trips were delayed while crews worked quickly to make them safe. A large digital map in the Airside Operations office shows red dots marking each plow or truck on the runway and what they do is different during every storm.

Nobody knows that better than the 160 people in field maintenance. Drivers, shovelers, mechanics and others work throughout the airport, from the runways to the roads to the ramps.

To clear snow, they form a so-called conga line. First, a plow, then a sweeper, a blower and finally chemicals. It takes about 20 to 45 minutes and when the last runway's clear, they start again on the first one. They work nonstop and even sleep on site to run in continuous shifts.

And even after this storm was done, their work is not. Up next, is the effort to prepare for the next round of weather.

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