Prague Airport is one of the fastest growing airports in the category of 10-25 million passengers. In 2018, 16.8 million passengers passed through its gates, in the years to come, this figure could be further increased. Check-in such a large number of people carries a heavy burden on the airport infrastructure, furthermore, in the winter months snow complicated everything. In order to avoid delays and all flights have been safely dispatched, a maintenance and operation unit in is working at the Prague Airport, which is responsible, among other things, for the cleaning of snow from the runways system. We talked to Pavel Rejlke, a manager of the maintenance and operation of Prague Airport, about how to clean the white cover from the runway.


How are you preparing for the winter months?

It can be said that all year round. At the end of the winter, all machines will be carefully cleaned. After thorough cleaning, take place thorough diagnosis, read errors from diagnostics, and troubleshooting work that does not require immediate intervention and have no effect on machine operation starts. Minor defects will be corrected within a few weeks. More complex work is done during the summer season. During the summer, we also modify the machines to increase their reliability - for example, reinforcement of the carrier parts of the ploughshares, changing the angles of the cutting edges of the ploughshares, etc. In September, the technique is being prepared for winter operation. The machines will be greased and tested, just to be ready for the first snow.

During September and October, we also add the number of drivers and workers for the winter season. As soon as the machines are ready, all drivers are trained and updated in their control. We provide a number of test drives, the main purpose of which is to get the driver in touch with all the techniques.

Another task is to provide a sufficient supply of de-icing agents. These can be either liquid which are used to treat runways, manipulation lines and checkpoints, or spreads. Sprinkles serve for the treatment of service roads. Completely ready for the winter we are the first November day.


Is there any difference between the airport-cleaning technique for snow and the cleaning technique from the road?

Our technique can be compared to road dispersers, but at first glance it varies in size. The blades of smaller machines are five meters wide and the machine has a working width of 3.5 meters, with larger machines a ploughshare, is eight meters wide and a working width of 5.5 meters. Differences can also be found in snow cleaning. A rake of the snow is the same as on the road, but the rest of the snow is still swept by a cylindrical brush placed between the axles and the surface is blown off in the last phase by the air flow.

Our machines also do not have a disperser. This is done by airport sprayers that clean the surface with a liquid de-icing substance. Their tanks have capacity 15,000 liters of liquid, which they dispense with nozzles on the folding arms. With a full shoulder distribution, one sprayer treats a 25 meter wide strip. The dosage is determined according to whether it is a preventive treatment, classic spraying or elimination spraying. The set dose is then automatically adjusted depending on the sprayer speed.

Another machine you will not see on the road is a large-capacity snow blower included in the column cleaning RWY (runways) and TWY (taxiways). It is conceived so as to speed up the moving column. This means that it is capable of throwing snow at a speed of up to 45 kilometers per hour and dropping it up to 100 meters from the runway. The machine's performance is 7500-10,000 tons of snow per hour.

The last rarity that can be met at our airport is the jet blowers. It is actually a jet engine located on the truck. Currently, we have three such machines, one older on the Liaz chassis and two new, conceived as a container superstructure. Current motors are the same as the L39 Albatros.


What specific machines do you have in your fleet? What is their average price?

We have machines from leading manufacturers who supply technology to most of the world's airports. The basis of our fleet of winter cleaning machines consists of snowploughs of the Swiss brands Boschung and Zaug and German brands Schmidt. Snow blowers - cutters are then produced by Kahlbacher and Rolba. Machine prices correspond to the fact that it is more or less a one piece of order job.


How long does it take to clean the runway?

We have 30 minutes to clean the runway. For half an hour, we must be able to clean up the runway in its entire length and width of 45 meters. We only allow one raid and one exit, so we can clean the so-called "one shot" after one pass of the column. The column consists of 12-13 rake-blowers, behind them two airport sprinkle vehicles. A circle around the leading vehicle, which coordinates the movement of the column with the air traffic controller and, on the other hand, controls the quality of the cleaning. With more snowfall, two high-capacity snow blowers are added to the column. The question of speed can not be defined by how quickly we interpose it all depends mainly on the reality of when we will run on runway. It is important to note that the cleaning is exercising in airport operation and must be coordinated in such a way that it is not restricted.

If there is a cleaning requirement, the cleaning manager will agree with the tower controlling officer, when it will be possible to enter the runway. As soon as we know when the time window will take place, the column is set in a waiting area and awaits permission to enter the runway and start cleaning. Subsequently, we get a permit and the column goes off. During cleaning, the completion time of the cleaning is confirmed so that the tower manager has accurate information about whether we can carry out the cleaning earlier or, exceptionally, on the other hand later.


How specifically does the snow cleaning process on the runway look like? What exactly is being done?

Priority is always to keep the runway in operation. According to the airport's winter maintenance plan, we have detailed procedures for how and where to clean the snow and what are the priorities of each area. It is actually a description of which runway is cleaned first along with its exits and crossovers, which parking space afterwards and which underpasses trains are the second in rank. From this point of view, the smallest priority has distant checkpoints and long-term parking spaces for aircraft.

In order to ensure that both the runway and the most important checkpoints are cleaned at the same time, we create two independent groups of machines and people - the RWY Group that is responsible for cleaning the runways and the underpasses, and the APRON Group for cleaning the checkpoints. This group is complemented by a group of small machinery for maintenance of service roads and additional cleaning of individual checkpoints.

Priority cleaning of all airport areas is carried out by rake-blowers and the surface is subsequently treated with a de-icing substance. If snowdrifts above the tolerance limit begin at the edges of the areas, the snow blowers goes out and the snowdrifts throw away to a safe distance.

If the snow stops and the operating areas are treated, the second phase of the cleaning process occurs. The snowdrifts that can not be thrown away need to be loaded and taken to predetermined places. Other snowdrifts throw snow blowers at safe distances. Final cleaning is also carried out especially around the entrance bridges, staircases, etc.

In the course of cleaning it is also necessary to solve the defects on the machines and their operating needs. From time to time it is necessary to pump the fuel or replace the used up brushes. These co-ordination activities are particularly demanding for cleaning managers who accept cleaning requests from surface traffic dispatchers and subsequently coordinate machines and people.


How many people are in the surface maintenance team?

The area maintenance team consists of 65 drivers divided into five groups, each group having its leader. As a support team, five workshop specialists are prepared to solve the defects of the machines. The surface maintenance operation is in H24 mode. There is always one bunch (12 drivers and a leader) on the shift. As soon as snow or other winter phenomena are assumed, a second group is called into service - in the snow, there is a shift of 24 drivers and two drivers.


Are you competing with surrounding airports? How are they? How does Prague go?

We sustain comparison with the surrounding airports such as Munich, Vienna, Berlin, Zurich or Warsaw, both technically and in terms of cleaning speed. We also excel in staffing. Most surface maintenance teams have been working for us for many years, so they know the areas of the airport thoroughly and use the technique unfailingly.

In addition, we are continuously changing the technology and we are striving to have a modern, high tech fleet of machines on a world level to ensure the operational ability of airport and airfields as such.


However, the snow falls only for a certain part of the year. What is your job in the other months?

I would say that work is in the months even more than in the winter. However, these are not activities that would have an immediate effect on the operation of aircrafts, as in the case of snow cleaning. On the other hand, it has to be done constantly.

Our biggest task is to maintain grass areas along all runways and taxiways. We are talking about an area about 546 hectares. It is necessary to maintain the height of the grass in the range of 15-25 centimeters, primarily due to the reduction of the occurrence of birds. Lower grass attracts birds because they can see food well. Long stands for them, on the contrary, for nesting. Grasslands are maintained by mulching. On remote areas, we keep the mulch in the grass, in the vicinity of the runway we carry mulch with collection so that the aircrafts do not get the rest of the grass with their engines.

In addition, we provide continuous machine and hand cleaning of check-in and service roads using airport and road vacuum cleaners and removal of rubber from the RWY by our own machine, regularly during planned closures or in connection with the results of measured braking effects.

We also take care of greenery in the airport area, we carry out cutting of trees, shrubs, carvings, etc. We provide the construction of mobile fencing, transport of various materials, deployment of city blocks, maintenance of vertical traffic signs. There is indeed a lot. At the airport, you're never bored.


Prague Airport, a.s.