Last year’s snow drop caused chaos across the U.K. as roads and airports shut down due to large volumes of the white stuff.
The big problem facing London last year was the availability of grit. This resulted in traffic chaos as roads and pavements were covered in slush. The situation was made worse at airports as de-icing fluid was in extremely short supply due to the unusually high demand. Rather than being able to prevent snow and ice from settling, airside operations teams faced the grueling task of continual snow clearance through the day and night to ensure the runways remained safe for aircraft landing and takeoffs.
With almost every runway shutting down, snow ploughs, brushes and de-icing vehicles were a regular site at airports last winter. Even then, runways remained closed. Despite the constant clearing, the snow just kept falling, hampering every effort of those airside staff who were basically fighting a losing battle.
Heathrow was the only airport in the U.K. not to close its runways last winter, but the delays were still significant. I know, I was one of the many stuck for several hours in a departure lounge somewhere in the world waiting for a plane that was delayed departing from Heathrow.
This year, Heathrow has invested half a million pounds in new equipment and the airside team has been preparing for the anticipated snow drop. The airport has stocked up on 500,000 litres of de-icing fluid and each of its de-icing vehicles can hold 60,000 litres, taking around 25 minutes to de-ice each runway.
This much de-icing fluid is a nightmare for the environment surrounding airports. Last year, over-de-icing at Heathrow meant the balancing ponds exceeded their capacity, resulting in untreated water being discharged into the local environment. Heathrow is tackling this problem by recovering the chemical bi-product of de-icing fluid, glycol, using newly purchased vehicles.
Heathrow’s director of airside, Colin Wood, said: “While we stayed open last winter, we won’t rest on our laurels and promise that we'll be ready, waiting and doing everything we can to make every journey better for our passengers.”
If we do get snow in London this week, it will be the earliest November snowfall in 17 years.
We were all reminded last night about the importance of de-icing and ensuring adequate friction is maintained after a Thomson Boeing 737-800 overshot the runway at Newcastle airport in icy conditions.