Airports in adverse weather

There is something exciting and remarkable about airport winter operations. Over the past few days, I have followed how the heavy snowfall affected European airports. Once again, some locations were clearly stunned by the storms. The situation brings back amazing memories from the time when I served in operational roles among a team of colleagues who worked extremely hard to sustain airport operations. For years, I experienced first-hand the enormity of the challenge to keep the airfield open during the harsh winter conditions. For me, this generates tremendous respect and admiration for airport staff who literally ‘battle’ against wintry circumstances.

Like every other year, this winter airports in Europe from North to South have been affected by adverse weather conditions. Interestingly, commonly most people associate winter operations with snow. However, for airports, severe conditions mean more than a heavy snowfall. Ice, strong winds, extreme downpours and low visibility can be equally as disruptive and troublesome for air transport.  To be fair, adverse weather can affect all airports irrespective of geographic position. I give reference solely to the European airport network simply because the recent bad weather suddenly touched the region and disruption has been wide.    

Airports ought to be prepare for winter operations. Respective administrations have a responsibility to organize their teams and resources and to plan effectively. For operations to function adequately, every eventuality or scenario must be calculated well in advance.

The preparation framework consists of many elements

Speaking from personal experience, preparation is the known secret for success when dealing with harsh weather. In addition to a proper fleet of equipment and machinery such as snowploughs, brush blowers and de-icing spreaders, Training is more vital. For the staff, whatever their role or capacity may be, they must be well trained and familiarized with all areas of the procedure. The preparation framework consists of many elements. Planning, investing, practical exercises, contingency forecasting and asset management are all essential tools to help the staff do the groundwork. At the end of the day, the quality of the preparation will determine how capable an airport is to deal with severe weather.

Debriefing is definitely very important for preparing a good operational plan. Looking back how the airport managed the situation can be very valuable in preparing for next time. Noting down and analysing the smooth and the rough points after a weather event can teach the team vital lessons. On a broader scale, a thorough examination of the previous season will help staff to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses. The management of winter operations is a continuous process and cannot end once normal weather conditions return.

The importance of effective communication

In any case, effective communication is central to the management of winter operations. Before, during and after severe weather conditions, the communication between stakeholders, duty teams, operators and inescapably the public must be efficient and well organized. Any gaps or glitches in communications could generate unexpected and regrettable complications for staff and customers alike. Nowadays, with modern systems, processes and technologies available it is relatively easy for airports to achieve a network of effective communications for all.  

Finally, because of the degree of unpredictability associated with bad weather conditions, airports must be well ready to respond. We must never forget that in the context of air transport, weather unpredictability affects safety. Therefore, the seriousness of the situation is always high. In my opinion, when the bad weather elements touch the airport, collective patience is essential by staff and passengers alike.  

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