Keeping Runways Clear

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Release date: 11/7/2019

Responsible for three of the northeast’s busiest airports, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey can’t afford to mess around when it comes to weather events like snow. They need to be prepared to get runways cleared as quickly as possible, typically within a 30-minute window. This may sound impossible, but here’s some insight into how they make it work.

Not every storm is going to bring a light coating of snow. So, when plows are out clearing runways, visibility for the drivers of these trucks can become a serious issue at night and in whiteout conditions. Therefore, the plows are broken into teams, with two lead vehicles at the head of each group. These guide vans have a single, clear light in the center of their
roof, which when illuminated will flash in one of several different colors.

This way, if a group of plows is designated as the “Red Team,” they know they are following the vans with red lights on top.

In addition to the Mack snow plows and Oshkosh snow blowers that see duty in the winter months, the Port Authority also has a very specialized piece of snow removal equipment: the Overaasen RS 400 high-speed runway sweeper.

These articulated vehicles comprise a 4x4 Mercedes-Benz Arocs cabover-truck and are a triple-threat when it comes to clearing runways as fast as possible. They can clear snow at speeds as high as 60 mph.

The front of the vehicle features a 27-foot long blade, with ends that can be folded inward. This enables the truck to fit through tight spaces like security gates. In the center of the trailer is a 20-foot long steel brush that kicks up any snow left behind from the plow, while the blower at the rear of the trailer pushes any residual snow from the tarmac.

The Port Authority currently has 58 of these vehicles in the fleet. It also tries to multipurpose as many of the vehicles as possible, so in the warmer months, the Overaasen plows are used to clean dirt and debris from runways.

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