Managing the snow and winter season at Finavia’s Ivalo Airport
Jarmo Pyhäjärvi, Director of Ivalo Airport, details how Finavia’s most northern airport handles the winter season.
Which winter factor most affects Ivalo Airport?
Ivalo Airport is Finavia’s most northern airport and the winter season lasts from October to April. During those seven months we need to be able to create summer conditions on our runways, even during heavy snowfalls and freezing temperatures. That’s part of our business.
Winter brings a large variety of weather conditions. A strong crosswind that appears during December and January is the most challenging weather as it requires more from the pilot during take-off and landing. The crosswind also blows new snow from the surrounded areas to the runway, even when it’s not snowing. For us, it means that the runways must be kept clean for aircraft to stay on schedule, even during the most busiest times.
How has your method of tackling this changed over the years?
We are constantly searching for new solutions to enhance our world-class ‘snow how’.
The tractor/blower-sweeper combination is, in total, 14m long and has a working width of four metres. The tractor that we use has 271 horsepower and the sweeper-blower has a 313-kilowatt engine. The plough in front of the tractor is six metres wide.
Traditionally, because of their heavy weight, the trucks have been the only machinery strong enough for snow removal. The vehicle that pulls, brushes or pushes the ploughs must have an enormous amount of power and tire traction. During the last few years, we have focused on the development of modifiable machinery, automation and testing.
Because the machinery dedicated to winter operations require maintenance throughout the year, it is cost-efficient to find solutions that can be used year round with slight modifications. For example, the development of normal tractors has allowed us to test them on runway winter maintenance. Because the size of tractors has increased, we have been able to connect them to snowploughs (in front of the tractor) and sweeper‑blowers (behind the tractor). In the future, we might be able to use tractors year round for different seasons and multiple tasks.
We try to find new ways to clear runways in demanding winter conditions. Therefore, we carried out a Runway Snowbot test at Ivalo Airport. This included programming optimised runway clearing patterns for a special unmanned, autonomous tractor running on low-carbon biofuel, pulling effective snow clearing equipment and ensuring optimal driving properties with top-notch tires. The Runway Snowbot was a joint project of five Finnish companies and gives us a glimpse of what the future may look like for airport snow clearing; paving the way for innovation.
In the past, manual labour has been the only way to remove snow from runway lights. Lately, we have been testing a special, automatic plough for the lights and we are eager to develop that process in cooperation with the manufacturer.
To what extent has winter weather changed over the years at Ivalo?
There has been scheduled flights to Ivalo since 1955. This means that the airport has been prepared to offer aircraft a clean runway for decades. Normally there is 60−70cm of snow at Ivalo Airport, but the winter season of 2019−2020 was extremely snowy, with an amazing 100‑120cm of snow in March and April.
How do you ensure your airport is always prepared?
To guarantee the success of our winter operations means not only heavy investments in machinery, but also having high-quality staff with decades of experience and knowledge, as well as continuous training and education regarding new methods and the data that we collect from the runway and weather information programmes.
To what extent does Ivalo Airport rely on technology to get through the winter months?
Nowadays, more and more, and we are constantly developing new technology that supports our operations. Improved weather data and modern technology in tractors, such as GPS-based auto guidance with a predetermined programme, helps us to improve the level of quality and operator comfort.
Is Ivalo Airport affected by cloud cover during winter?
Clouds are not an issue at Ivalo Airport. However, the snowfall can be so intense that it lowers visibility. We take care of that by ensuring pilots receive accurate and beneficial information about the conditions they are flying in to.
Do you envision a day where all winter operations are conducted by automated machinery without the need for airport staff?
Perhaps, one day no one will need to sit inside a winter maintenance vehicle. However, regardless, we need our airport professionals to develop and strengthen our winter methods and to guarantee smooth travelling via Finavia airports.
Jarmo Pyhäjärvi works with Finavia Corporation and has been the Director of Ivalo Airport since 2012. During his career, he has seen the development and exponential growth of tourism in Lapland. As Director of Ivalo Airport, Pyhäjärvi works closely with his colleagues and considers the safety and wellbeing of passengers to be of great importance, now more than ever. His goals and ambitions include developing the accessibility of Ivalo and Lapland and taking care of smooth travelling at Ivalo Airport.