CASPER — A gazillion flakes flew in a billowing cloud as Dan Kittinger gunned the 475-horsepower engine driving the airport’s newest weapon against winter weather Wednesday.
The 18-foot-wide Oshkosh rotary snow broom itself — powered by its own 450-horsepower engine — spins from 250 to 450 rpm as its yellow nylon bristles scrape the final quarter-inch of snow that the massive snowplows cannot reach on the nearly two-mile-long runway at the Casper-Natrona County International Airport.
And it’s faster than the airport’s former snow broom, Kittinger said. “It takes 30 minutes to do the whole runway.”
The old snow broom died after a massive failure of the hydraulic system about six weeks ago, airport manager Glenn Januska said.
“We were looking at about $30,000 to fix the old unit, about $500,000 and nine months of manufacturing time to purchase a new one, or the option of purchasing something used,” he said.
Waiting nine months through the winter was out of the question, Januska said.
Airport officials located a re-manufactured snow broom in Wisconsin and bought it for $140,000, he said.
Chance Warne, operations and maintenance manager at the airport, said funding for such capital equipment comes from state and Federal Aviation Administration grants, and the facilities charges paid by passengers when they buy tickets.
This equipment helps clear the 150-foot-wide, 10,165-foot-long runway that serves passengers, business aircraft, freight, international flights and customs, and the military.
While runways and roadways share the common feature of long strips of concrete, Januska said the similarities end with snow removal:
n Maintenance crews cannot use salt because it corrodes aircraft parts, and they cannot use sand because it gums up aircraft engines.
n Crews can’t pile snow next to the runways and taxiways because wing tips must remain a certain height off the ground.
n Likewise, snow can’t be pushed to the sides where they may cause runway and taxiway lights and signs to break from their bases.
The airport uses plows and snow blowers like local and state agencies, but its rotating broom marks a crucial difference, Januska said.
“Our plow trucks can only remove the snow down to about a quarter-inch, but the broom can remove all of the snow down to the bare pavement,” he said.
“That small amount of (snow) contamination left by the plows can reduce the runway braking action from good to poor, or practically speaking, from aircraft landing to us being shut down,” Januska said.
Kittinger said maintenance crews don’t use the snow broom on taxiways, because the planes can maneuver when some snow is on the ground.
But the runway must be clear for planes to brake during an aborted takeoff, and certainly brake during landing when a plane is coming in at 200 mph, he said.
A closed runway, Warne said, not only causes inconvenience to passengers, it can be disastrous for freight carriers because companies such as FedEx run on very tight schedules.
Wednesday, several small FedEx planes could not take off until crews cleared the runway, Warne said.
If weather delays a large cargo plane, companies such as FedEx can eat as much as $200,000 a day in losses, he said.
Contact Tom Morton at email@example.com 307-266-0592.