I like going to the airport. It usually means that I’m traveling. But not today. Today we visited the Metropolitan Airports Commission at MSP. We actually went to the airport driver’s training center. This is where we met the people who are in charge of the facility, other than the terminal. They are in charge of Title 14 Section 139 of the government regulations under the FAA and DOT. What does that encompass? Records, personnel, paved and unpaved areas, markings, signs and lighting, snow and ice removal, handling and storing hazardous waste, traffic and wind direction indicators, airport emergency plan, pedestrians and ground vehicles, obstructions, wildlife hazard management, protection of NAVAIDS, airport condition reporting, marking unserviceable areas and noncomplying conditions.
Since we were at the driver’s training center, we were able to see and test out the driving simulators. The one above has three screens. The one below has a large wrap-around screen and sometimes causes motion sickness. These simulators can replicate snowstorm conditions in the middle of July.
There was also a simulation for wildlife control. As a last resort, they do have to sometimes shoot an animal. The first option is habitat modification. If that doesn’t work they try exclusion (prevent them from getting in). Then it’s harassment, capture and release and lastly, lethal control. The tall fences around the airport really serve to keep the animals out.
All of the runways and taxiways need to be kept clear of all debris. The MSP Airport is well-known for its snow removal system. They don’t use any salt in the areas in which the planes are located. They use a very fine sand that they get from a nearby town. They also have chemicals that are used for anti-icing purposes as well as de-icing purposes. When making their decisions about runways in poor weather, they use a SAAB 9-5 wagon with a 5th wheel to test for friction. One runway can be completely cleared of snow in 30 minutes. There is a way to measure when the friction is such that a runway must be cleared or treated. If they clear a runway too soon, they cause delays which in turn, create costs for the airlines. The timing and speed of this is critical. Also, when a runway is treated for anti-icing or de-icing, it costs $10,000 per runway. At MSP there are four runways. You can do the math.
This happens to be a giant snow-blower. The width is 8 feet. Think how quickly your driveway could be done. When they use the high-speed plows, they also have a sweeper attached behind the plow. When plows are used, there is always a little snow that is left. The sweeper takes care of the bits that are left behind. And what do they do with all that snow?
These are the snow ovens. The snow is melted and because there are chemicals in that snow, they are very careful to dispose of the chemicals properly.
It was quite interesting to be in a van driving around the runways. We got to see some engines that were being fixed. We were able to ask questions about what you see when you are looking out the window as you taxi on your flight. When a plane lands, there is someone that comes to inspect the aircraft.
We also saw them refueling, where the bags go on a conveyor belt, underground roads so the workers don’t have to cross runways, and a whole host of other things.
It was very interesting to see the different types of jobs that are at the airport that don’t involve working for a carrier. If I have a student that has an interest in this type of area, I can tell them that all of the people working there have a four-year degree, most of them in aviation. There are so many possibilities, I at least, feel like I can speak with some credibility about many more careers after my experiences this week.