If snowy, wet and icy conditions were to hit, would your ground support operation be ready?

In recent years, there have been several high-profile winter weather disruptions at airports around the world, highlighting the importance of planning and preparation before snow occurs and negatively impact operations.

If snowy, wet and icy conditions were to hit, would your ground support operation be ready?

The challenges of winter operations

Some airports are already adept at dealing with winter weather. For example, Stockholm Arlanda Airport has never shut because of snow. Snowy conditions are expected in Sweden in the winter, so operations are, by default, relatively well prepared to deal with these events.

Conversely, airports in the UK routinely shut runways because of snowy weather. The winter in the UK, as in many other countries, has changed, bringing with it unpredictable weather, which is more challenging to plan for.

However, failure to plan and prepare for winter weather extremes can prove expensive for airports and airlines, be hugely inconvenient for passengers and dangerous for all concerned.

Another challenge comes in the form of human resource. In countries where cold temperature extremes are less common, it is simply not feasible for airports to keep snow-clearing and winter operations staff ready and waiting all year. For this reason, many winter operations staff are brought in from other departments when bad weather hits.

While this is a cost-effective way to resource winter operations, your organisation must consider the overall impact of training. For example, planning and scheduling, equipment usage, downtime, and costs.

Winter operations training for GSE operators

A dedicated winter operations training programme is essential for ensuring that drivers can competently and safely use the necessary equipment. Adverse weather conditions may only affect your operation a few times each year, but it is important that your drivers are correctly trained, ready to use the equipment long before any bad weather hits.

Where equipment is used just a few times over the winter months, and by people who ordinarily carry out other duties, correct operation can easily be forgotten by the following year. Combine this with challenging operating conditions and the importance of Refresher training before live operations is clearly highlighted.

It’s not just equipment training that is important. Staff who have been away from the live operating environment should also be reacquainted with the areas where they will conduct winter operations. New regulations, standard operating procedures and traffic flows may all have come into effect since they were last involved in winter operations.

Refresher training does not have to be a long, time-consuming and costly exercise. Operators’ abilities should be assessed first, and then the required amount of follow-up training delivered. There is no need for you to deliver lengthy detailed training just for the sake of it. Accurately assessing a returning driver’s ability can go a long way to cutting training time and cost, and it will allow you to focus on the areas of their performance that need attention.

A central database of training records will help you keep track of which training people have completed and when, providing a useful tool for planning future training needs.

Planning for airside winter operations

As well as preparing for winter operations with training, planning should also take into account the selection, procurement and maintenance of suitable winter operations equipment for your environment. It is best to determine a list of requirements in order to choose the right equipment and attachments for your specific airport operating environment.

Research is critical. Analyse seasonal weather trends, identify the sort of equipment and attachments you might need, and allow plenty of time for research into different solutions. Make use of the national and global community: discuss available options with users at similar airports to help you arrive at the best solution – there’s a lot of value in user experience.

Always consider equipment maintenance requirements too. Like any other piece of equipment, winter operations equipment must be inspected and serviced throughout the year to ensure safety, reliability and efficiency when it is needed. There’s no point investing in equipment only to have it non-operational at the point when you need it.

When winter conditions strike, both equipment and people need to be ready for operations, otherwise there is a risk of stands becoming unavailable, taxiways becoming impassable and runways being closed.

Safe GSE operation in winter weather

When winter conditions arrive and the time comes to operate the necessary equipment, it is important that, as well as having been trained correctly, winter operations staff (just like all GSE equipment operators) are competent to carry out effective pre-use inspection.

It is essential that all equipment taken out in extreme weather conditions is in good working order and that it can be seen. To assist operators with effective pre-use inspections, a pre-use checklist should be prepared for all the equipment types that will be used.

Checks should always include lights, beacons, glazing and mirrors, washer bottles and wipers, spray nozzles, proximity sensors and cameras, radios, wheels and tyres/tracks. Equipment that is defective or deficient in any way represents a serious risk to the driver, and other staff, so it is important that it is repaired before use
A post-use checklist should also be prepared for all equipment so that it is inspected directly after use and any potential issues can be addressed without delay.

Protecting people

The correct ground support equipment training, pre-use checks and supervision all play a vital role in contributing to the safety of your equipment operatives. Beyond this, you should also make sure that operators have the correct PPE (personal protective equipment) for the task and the conditions. Cold conditions may call for different gloves, coats, footwear or hats than are generally used throughout the year.

To further protect equipment operators, you should also pay particular attention to shift lengths during winter operations. Operating heavy equipment in challenging weather conditions is hard work and the risk of accidents increases with fatigue.

Winter operations consultancy and training

No two winters are the same, so it is important to analyse the performance of operatives, equipment and your winter operations plan in general once the bad weather has passed. Relevant findings can help inform effective planning and preparation for the following year.

RTITB Airside provides auditing and consultancy services for airside operations which can help reveal what you need to plan for ahead of the winter. ‘Train the trainer’ courses for relevant winter operations equipment are also available. Get in touch to learn more.