Hundreds of thousands of tourists land on airports of Finavia in Lapland each winter with holiday plans.
With snow typically covering Northern Finland 170 to 200 days a year, and even Southern Finland nearly a third of the year, how do Finnish airports, known from their airport snow expertise, cope with the challenging combination of air traffic and winter weather? The old Scout Motto “Be prepared” is just as relevant when it comes to winter maintenance.
— Our maintenance and air traffic control staff together keep a constant eye on weather forecasts. When a flurry is in sight, the extra staff is called in. In addition to people keeping an eye on the weather, all our runways are equipped with high tech sensors that monitor tiny changes in the tarmac temperature 24/7. We are particularly interested in temperature changes around zero degrees Celsius, as this is the trickiest temperature from an air traffic safety point of view. says Veli-Pekka Pitkänen, Finavia’s Northern Finland Director.
When snow does begin to fall, it’s removed mechanically from the tarmac by an army of industrial-scale snow plows, sweepers, and snow blowers. Often, this work is carried out when there is a break in arrivals and departures, but if there is a blizzard and safety demands it, traffic can be stopped while the runway is attended to.
Contrary to what you might think, it’s not the amount of snow itself that airport maintenance struggles with, but temperature. When the weather is close to freezing but there isn’t much snow, the runway is in danger of freezing over. Early winter, from November to the beginning of December, tend to be the trickiest time in this respect. Information on tarmac friction is fed directly to traffic control, who, together with the pilot, decide whether it’s safe to land.
– This is where we use various chemicals to melt the tarmac ice. On a global scale, Finnish snow-how truly is second to none. Even though other countries with hard winters, like Canada and the United States, have much longer traditions in air traffic than Finland does, we regularly host industry experts keen to learn winter maintenance skills from us, Pitkänen tells with pride.
Thanks to great snow-how, airport snow expertise, fewer flights are delayed or canceled, which leads to fewer disrupted travel plans but also has economic repercussions. Finavia is also industry leaders in improving snow-how skills.
– Weather sensors and forecasts become more sensitive by the year, which leads to better-timed winter maintenance, Pitkänen concludes.