Monitoring runway conditions and updating pilots in real-time..
becomes especially crucial during the winter months when dealing with snow and ice-covered pavement. Timmins Victor M. Power Airpoirt airfield foreman Rick Provot, pictured, is now better able to handle this responsibility thanks to an automated inspection system that the airport installed last year.
Once the snow and ice fly, ensuring that planes can take off and land safely on the runway at the Timmins Victor M. Power Airport becomes increasingly more difficult.
Thanks to a $100,000 investment into automated runway inspection technology, however, the airport staff here in the city are now better equipped to make updates on runway conditions in a timely and effective manner.
The new system has been in place for about a year and brings the airport up to par with the processes that many other airports across the province have already been using for some time.
“We were behind a lot of them, a lot of the other airports had these two or three years ago, so we were one of the later ones to get it,” said airfield foreman Rick Provot, who has worked at the airport for 16 years.
The new system is equipped with a touchscreen laptop with pre-loaded software that is hooked up inside of Provot’s pickup truck.
The system is connected via Wi-Fi to an office inside the airport terminal which allows all of the information inputted into the computer to be relayed to the proper channels remotely.
This allows airport personnel to let pilots know what kind of conditions they are flying into in real-time and to update national systems as to the conditions in Timmins.
“Everything before was paper, all paper,” Provot explained, “so this has helped, 100 %.”
Airport manager David Dayment agreed that the new system has dramatically improved the airport’s inspection process and the speed at which they can update weather conditions.
“We used to do a report, write it on paper, take it upstairs to flight services, give it to them
and it would take about 20 minutes before we could update the runway conditions,” he said. “Now, we can do it in about two minutes.”
That amount of time saved becomes crucial when considering how often someone like Provot has to complete updates on ground conditions.
On days with clear skies, warm temperatures, no extreme weather systems passing through and a lack of what he calls “contaminants” (snow, ice, etc.) on the runway, Provot said they have to provide updates a minimum of every eight hours.
But when conditions are less than optimal, mainly in the winter, the number of updates required increases exponentially.
He will drive up and down the runways monitoring things like the percentage of ice and snow covering the pavement, the dew point and pavement temperature and any wildlife activity.
Another big part of the inspection process is doing brake tests, where Provot will literally bring his vehicle to a grinding halt on the runway to test the amount of g-force required to come to a full stop.
That information is then used to determine whether an aircraft will be able to safely come to a full stop in the allotted space on the runway.
Provot has to do these tests quite often.
“Yesterday morning, I did 27 of them in two-and-a-half hours,” he said. “The worst time I can think of, within an hour I did maybe 300 brake tests. So, we’re trying to give them as much information as we can to take off and land safely.”
The reason for being so vigilant is because even the slightest change in runway conditions can dramatically alter a plane’s ability to land safely.
“Most aircraft that land here are coming in at 220 to 300 miles per hour and you’re all of a sudden coming from that to zero in basically 3,000 to 4,000 feet,” the foreman explained. “On a light day, where in town they say it’s only light fluff and you go out and brush only a light dusting off your car, well, if we get that on the runway it could end up that airplane won’t land – just with that little bit of snow. Here, because you’re so wide open, the conditions will get ten times worse than in town.”
Since things can change so quickly, it is crucial that Provot is able to update conditions as efficiently as possible.
With the old system, he said he would sometimes be filling out 20 different reports in a matter of hours and having to physically take the reports to the proper channels.
Now, he can do the same amount of work in only a few minutes without having to leave his vehicle.
Within the last five years, the airport has also upgraded some of its winter maintenance equipment by investing in a new blower, sweeper, and loader.
“All of our other equipment was like 20-something years old, so we’ve upgraded a lot in equipment as well as getting with the times, as the saying goes,” Provot explained.
Dayment said the airport is always looking for the next advancement in technology to ensure that everyone who flies through Timmins does so safely.
“We’re not in the airport business; we’re in the safety business, so our ultimate goal is that everyone who gets on the plane, gets off,” he said. “Those are the best roads in Timmins, those two runways right there.”
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