Winter Wonderland Or The Hell Frozen Over: Snow In Aviation
Many people associate snow with holidays, cozy evenings and fun. But in aviation, snow causes slightly less positive emotions. Every winter is a new challenge for air travel industry. Smooth running of operations is highly dependent on weather. And while severe weather might strike in any country, some are better prepared than others.
It’s no surprise that the northern countries do the best in snow emergencies. Did you know that Stockholm-Arlanda, the largest airport in Sweden, has never been shut down because of snow? The airport starts preparing for the winter season in early autumn, when the number of airfield maintenance employees grows from 30 - 50 to more than 100. The right equipment also plays a key part in smooth operations. Arlanda’s chief of airside operations Christian Nyberg states that about a hundred different vehicles are used for snow-clearing purposes at the airport.
Norway is another northern country great at dealing with severe weather conditions. In January 15, 2018, Oslo experienced blizzards that left some areas covered with up to 70 centimeters of snow! Some Norwegian airports had to close until the weather was again suitable for flying, but the main airport in Oslo Gardermoen kept its operations going. The airport was well prepared, with many different means to clean away the snow, which included the world’s largest snowplow, which can move 10,000 tons of snow in less than an hour! There were only 46 cancelled flights out of 579 that happened that day. Of course, severe weather conditions caused many of the flights - 474 to be exact - to be delayed. But that’s a small price to pay for being able to reach your destination safe and sound even in the midst of this winter wonderland.
The Oslo Gardermoen airport will be welcoming this upcoming winter season with some powerful new pieces that will help them fight the snow storms. After last year’s successful tests at Fagernes Airport, two autonomous snow clearing vehicles will be going into live operation in early 2019 and will operate until April.
Unfortunately, not every country has as good of a snow management record as Norway and Sweden have. The Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute estimates that snow covers Schiphol on average 14 days per year. Usually, the airport can manage it, but there were some nasty surprises last year. December 12th, 2017, was when “code red” was declared in the Netherlands due to a heavy snow storm that caused traffic delays all over the country. Even though the Schiphol Amsterdam airport stayed operational, out of 4990 flights that were scheduled for two days of the storm, 2401 were cancelled, affecting thousands of passengers.
The United Kingdom has snow issues almost yearly. “We don’t see enough snow to be able to be experts in how we operate, clear or manage it,” said James-Paul Straiton, Glasgow Airport’s airfield operations manager. The winter of 2017/2018 wasn’t an exception. It brought several storms that caused problems for the airports of the country. Probably one the most damaging ones began on the 10th of December 2017, when a snowstorm brought up to 25 centimeters of snow to London. In the London Heathrow Airport, out of the 2247 scheduled flights 689 were cancelled and 1345 were delayed i. Thousands of passengers were left stranded, standing in 5 hour long queues just to get out of the airport! People were unhappy not only over the delays, but also because of the lack of staff in the airport to manage the waves of passengers.
In early March of 2018, a snowstorm dramatically dubbed “the beast from the east” affected many countries. But the most damage was done - again - at the British Isles. While the UK had some serious flight disruptions - London Heathrow airport delayed 1305 flights out of the 4611 scheduled - Dublin airport in Ireland had it the worst. Dublin Airport was promptly closed on March 2 after reports were received that “the beast from the east” was heading Ireland’s way, which ended up with 97% of flights (556 out of 573) getting cancelled. Only 1 flight managed to leave the airport on time! 4 were delayed and there was no information about 12 others.
The winter of 2017/2018 brought some snowy days to the southern Europe as well. On the 5th of February, Madrid had an intense snowstorm, but the airport stayed mostly functioning, forced to close only one out of four runways. This caused 155 flights out of 1448 to be cancelled. Delays, of course, were unavoidable, but overall it showed that even countries where winters are warm and usually snowless can be prepared for the unexpected.
In the recent years, days of extreme weather were more common than before. Airports have to be always prepared for the worst if they want to keep their operations going. Even though the bad weather conditions do not entitle passengers for a moral compensation from airlines, flight disruptions cost insane amounts of money for both airlines and airports, so being prepared should be in everyone’s best interest. In situations where passengers have to wait hours for their flight (or a substitute flight), they have the right to care. Airlines should provide food and water for everyone waiting for more than two hours and accommodation for those who have to wait overnight or more. Unfortunately, airlines are not always willing to take care of their passengers, so everyone should be aware of their rights.
So, with the snow season just around the corner, every passenger should be up to date with weather forecasts - make sure to check for any updates in regard to your fights and know your rights in case anything goes wrong.
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