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How airports beat bad weather

updated 3:37 AM EST, Fri February 15, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Oslo Airport in Norway has a secret weapon in its battle against the winter elements
  • The TV 2000 is hugesnow-blower that can clear a three kilometer runway in 15 minutes
  • Oslo has one of the best records in Europe for on-time departure of flights

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(CNN) -- Ensuring a bustling aviation hub runs like clockwork is a challenging endeavor at the best of times.

Doing so under a blizzard of thick snow, ice and freezing fog can only intensify the battle against the clock.

Faced with these winter extremities for almost half the year, Oslo Airport has recruited a secret weapon to help meet its scheduling commitments -- the TV 2000 snow-blower.

Weighing in at a mammoth 40 tons and with a price tag of just under $2 million, the giant snow-plow can clear a three kilometer runway in as little as 15 minutes.

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The TV 2000 can remove "about ten thousand tons of snow an hour," said the airport's head of services, Henning Bratebeck.

"It pushes the snow with a plow, it sweeps the runway and it blows the snow to the side," he added. An array of smaller vehicles finish the job.

There are only four such devices in the world, he added, and Oslo Airport has snapped up two of them.

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We need to be able to handle winter operations more or less like summer operations
Nic Nilsson

Employing such advanced weather management systems make sense for an airport situated just a few hundred miles from the Arctic Circle.

Winter stretches between October and April in Norway, with snow falling regularly during this period.

According to Oslo Airport CEO, Nic Nilsen, this has pushed Oslo to become a leader in airport snow maintenance.

"We have winter six months a year, and we need to be able to handle winter operations more or less like summer operations," Nilsen says.

"This requires good planning, it requires a lot of resources, good procedures and a lot of training.

"(If not) we will more or less be out of business," he added.

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The TV 2000 is a key weapon in the fight to keep flights on time but, as Nilsen intimates, there are a host of other snow-clearing devices and tactics employed at Oslo Airport.

This includes a rigorous de-icing process for aircraft and runways as well as a fleet of giant plows that follow the TV 2000 to clear the snow blown off runways.

An extra 90 people meanwhile are hired by the airport just to assist with snow clearance during winter months.

"The idea is this (TV 2000) basically does the grunt work," Bratebeck explained.

"(But we also always) have 27 guys ready in case the snow starts falling."

As soon as "the first flakes fall down we will drive out ... and (begin) the snow cleaning," he added.

The effectiveness and military-like precision of this process becomes fully clear when compared to winter performance at other European airports.

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Few sites are exposed to the elements with such regularity, yet almost all find it hard to compete with Oslo's record on punctuality.

Around 40 percent of flights were cancelled at Paris Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports on just one day in January this year.

Frankfurt meanwhile was forced to close operations, leading to the cancellation of some 500 flights in the process.

By comparison Oslo has only ever had to cease operations because of heavy snow twice since opening its doors in 1998.

On both occasions operations were up and running again after a matter of hours -- although Oslo Airport is considerably smaller than those in London, Paris and Frankfurt.

"I think it's fair to say that after fourteen years we are in the position where we have a very solid and very good operation," says Nilsen.

"We are well prepared, know how to handle the situation, and we also have a policy of standardizing the fleet of vehicles, so maintenance and renewal is much more easy.

"(But) we know that one winter will always play different from the previous ones so we (will always) learn something new," he added.

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