Friday, January 9, 2009

Snow way to run an airport?

Pilot gripes about snow removal

Express Staff Writer

A private plane lands at Friedman Memorial Airport’s general aviation strip this week. Photo by David N. Seelig

A pilot who uses Friedman Memorial Airport told the field's governing body that he knows ways of clearing snow from Friedman faster and more efficiently than now done.

After using all 10 minutes set aside for public comment at Tuesday night's FMAA meeting, and finally being cut off by chair Martha Burke, it appeared pilot Guy Perry hadn't done his homework completely before criticizing Friedman's snow removal activities. Airport manager Rick Baird responded with a checklist of data that seemed to deflate Perry's claims.

What prompted his criticism, he said, was the day he wanted to fly his twin-engine Beechcraft Baron, a small plane, from the privately owned Sluder's gravel top strip south of Bellevue to Friedman to refuel. But Friedman was closed while snow was being removed, he said.

Perry said he investigated other Rocky Mountain airports and discovered most never were closed because of snow.

"They have a lot more people working on snow removal," he said. "They have 18 at Vail. We have 8 here."

Friedman's regular snow crew numbers about five, according to operations manager Peter Kramer.

Perry then offered several suggestions, such as hiring more snow removal personnel, inviting other airport managers to study Friedman's methods for improvements and closing the eastside taxiway for snow storage.

Airport manager Baird chipped away at Perry's arguments.

Noting that Friedman is pinched for open space to store plowed snow, Baird said, "If we had 1,200 acres, it wouldn't be a problem. We have 211 acres." With a larger new airport, Baird said "we can store it and forget about it until spring."

Hiring more snow removal personnel would be a waste of money and pass along unneeded costs to airlines. The airport spent $22,000 for private contractors to haul snow off the airport.

As for other mountain airports, Baird said Perry had been misled by "a play on words" by other airports.

For example, the Jackson Hole Airport posts a warning the airport often is "unattended" and informs pilots in the NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) alerts that they land at their own risk "in possible winter conditions." The airport tower also informs pilots "the runway is not available" --a metaphor, Baird said, equivalent to closing the field because of snow. Jackson Hole also posts the wording that "no snow removal guaranteed during hours of non-attendance," Baird said.

Baird said the airport at Eagle, Colo., performs no snow removal at night, unlike Friedman, whose crews work around the clock.

Friedman's closings, Baird said, usually is not for snow removal, but because of low cloud ceilings and restricted visibility.

Airport board member Dr. Ron Fairfax, an aircraft owner, volunteered to meet with Perry to hear his complaints and recommendations and report to the board.

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