Reday for snow - Heathrow Airport with Equipment from Aebi Schmidt UK

“To be prepared is half the victory”. Heathrow Airport might not necessarily have been thinking about this quote by the 16th Century Spanish novelist, poet and playwright Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, when it acquired the Supra 5002 snow blower last year - but that is precisely what it achieved.

Come winter this year; and if this brings heavy snow, the airport will be totally prepared to deal with the tricky conditions thanks to the new snow blower now part of its winter fleet. “The Supra 5002 is built into the Heathrow snow plan when we experience a forecast of over 6cm accumulation. This is the point at which the regulation snow bank profiles will take effect. This allows Heathrow to maintain a full width and full length runway during winter operations,” says Ricky Oakes, Winter Operations Manager, Airside Operations, at Heathrow Airport Ltd.

And these are major runways we are talking about. With a total airport size of 1,227 hectares, Heathrow operates two runways; Northern (with a length of 3,902m and a width of 50m) and Southern (with a length of 3,658m and a width of 50m). The airport’s planned expansion, including a third, 3,500m long runway and the debate surround it, is currently in the news.

Heathrow is one of the world's busiest airports, handling 73.4 million passengers in 2014 (on 17 August 2014, the airport saw the highest number of passengers in one day: 241,412). More than a third of passengers transfer to other flights, making it a major hub airport. Indeed, the airport is currently used by 80 airlines flying to 185 destinations in 84 countries.

Imagine the chaos if severe weather would strike unprepared. And now imagine the cost of each flight that gets diverted. Depending on several factors, the cost can be high: the destination the diverted flight ends up at, whether it is an overnight flight, whether it needs to upload fuel, whether the crew are out of hours, how many transfer passengers miss their onward connections, whether the aircraft has a rotational flight that requires a replacement aircraft and crew, and so on. And this is before mentioning the disruption to passengers themselves. This is why it is so important – indeed crucial, to keep the runways, taxiways, stands and other key areas of the airport clear.

In order to keep operating, Heathrow Airport does all it can to keep the disruption to a minimum; the Supra 5002 will help with this. “Ideally we would have two units, however we currently have one machine only and have built the methodology around a single deployment,” says Ricky.

He explains that, despite the airport’s physical area, one of the reasons for acquiring the Supra 5002 was its medium size: “The previous cutter/blower was oversized for the weather events we experience at Heathrow. Also, these vehicles were a combination of two units which made for slow operations. The Supra 5002’s speed and operating capacity are a good fit for the conditions and events we face. The machine’s operational capability, speed of operation, visibility and ease of operation are key features for us.”

The Supra 5002 is the world’s first 420 kW (571 hp) snow blower with an ECO-mode. This feature ensures that only the necessary engine power needed to drive the cutting-head and pumps in all conditions is used; thus offering the lowest fuel consumption and sound and exhaust emission levels of any modern four-wheel drive articulated snow blower.

Following delivery of the machine, Aebi Schmidt UK provided certified training on the Supra 5002 to six operators over three days. “The training was well received by the operators,” says Ricky. “The operators at Heathrow do not get the experience of regular heavy snow experienced on the continent so training is an expensive necessity at Heathrow.”

The Heathrow operators like the Supra 5002, “especially as the cab and function layout is consistent with the other Schmidt machines that we have,” says Ricky.

This highlights the fact that the relationship between Heathrow Airport and Aebi Schmidt is not new. Heathrow took delivery of its first Schmidt airport de-icer over 12 years ago, in July 2003. In fact, the company has more than 50 Schmidt machines at the airport, including sweepers, combis, spreaders, de-Icers and jet sweepers amongst others. 

And what is this relationship like? “The professional approach to working with Heathrow and understanding our situation has been outstanding,” says Ricky.

It is one of Aebi Schmidt UK’s highest priorities to work hand in hand with its customers, to understand their needs and to offer only the right solutions. Mike Moore, Key Account Manager at Aebi Schmidt UK says: “We are always happy to be contacted by Heathrow Airport and/or its service provider (Babcock International Group, Engineering Support) to carry out certified training, deal with any technical repairs, de-icer calibrations or supply spare parts, amongst other things. However, we never lose sight of our customers’ priorities and in the case of Heathrow Airport Ltd, it is to run the UK’s premier international airport in an effective and safe manner. We are here to help them achieve that.”

Ricky says: “Aebi Schmidt UK helps define our needs before offering solutions, this creates a positive relationship and ensures the solutions offered are the right ones.”