Optimizing winter operations at Frankfurt Airport

Optimizing winter operations at Frankfurt Airport

Shoveling snow from your driveway is bad enough. Now imagine taking that same shovel to 1,000 football pitches and you have a rough idea of what it takes to keep airport runways clear in winter.

In 2010, heavy snow in Britain resulted in 4,000 flight cancellations, costing the operators, BAA, £20 million and the UK economy an estimated £1.2 billion. Frankfurt Airport suffered a similar experience in 2013. The airport was forced to cancel more than 200 flights due to heavy snow and freezing rain.

A logistical nightmare at Frankfurt Airport

Here, continuous snow quickly piles up and has to be cleared by two high performance snow groomers. These are tracked vehicles equipped with a shovel and a cutter. When the vehicle drives over a snowfield, it pushes snow ahead of it and, at the same time smooths out any surface unevenness. The logistical undertaking of managing this is immense.

For takeoff and landing to continue, crew must clear a four-kilometer long, and 60-meter wide runway within 30 minutes after the snow stops, while also preserving access to the apron areas. This adds up to an area of 7.5 million square meters, the size of 1,000 football pitches. It’s a big job and requires a large scale response.

During winter, each shift uses around 200 vehicles, including high performance snow blowers, gritters and wheel loaders. Approximately 200 employees are used per shift and these are normally provided by an employment agency. They have to be called in before the weather hits. To minimize the effect of snowfall, Vice President of Airport Infrastructure, Roland Schwarz, and his team receive updates three times a day from the German weather service. If snow is forecasted, the team makes a request from the employment agency between 14 and 16 hours before the snow is expected to start falling.

This sounds like a good way of handling things. So what was the problem?

An administrative headache

Until now, the process was coordinated manually, using Excel lists and small databases. Workers often spent time before their shift waiting for paperwork, such as registration documents, to be allocated. Although the airport allowed sufficient time for this work, it soon became an administrative and financial headache. The time required to process paperwork for 200 employees added up. Given that the airport required winter services between 60 – 70 times per year, costs quickly skyrocketed.

The move to clearer runways

With the drag on finances and administrative inefficiency, Schwarz and his team decided to look for a more efficient way of doing things. What they needed was simple: a solution which ensured fast allocation of employees to their vehicles, complying with working times and providing the necessary data for subsequent reports. And they found it. Discover how in this report.


Special Report: Next Generation Planning and Optimization Solutions features how Fraport optimized their winter operations, how KLM keeps its cockpits manned and how the trend of air travel is evolving. Get a free copy today.