Aero Snow Removal

DES PLAINES “SNOW FIGHTER” FIRM KEEPS O’HARE AIRPORT OPEN DURING WINTER STORMS

Apr 15, 2011

New Komatsu wheel loaders — centerpieces of the fleet

As every traveler knows, even a small amount of snow can wreak havoc at an airport. At Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, a major hub for several air carriers, delays in departures and arrivals create a domino effect on flights from coast to coast. To minimize these delays, as well as flight cancellations, Chicago’s Department of Aviation (CDA) devotes a great deal of time, money and effort to snow removal.

To help win the battle against Mother Nature, CDA contracts with Aero Snow Removal Corp., (Aero), one of the largest and most technologically advanced snow removal companies in the United States, if not in the world. It is part of the New York-based Dejana Industries, Inc. “family of companies,” which provides snow removal services at nine of the busiest airports in the country.

Award-winning service

The resources CDA applies to snow removal are well-spent. In 2009-2010, Aero and the CDA operations division jointly received the coveted Balchen/Post Award presented each year at the International Aviation Snow Symposium. Sponsored by the Northeast chapter of the American Association of Airport Executives, its purpose is to promote excellence in snow and ice control as well as provide recognition to individuals for outstanding performance. For airports that receive accumulating snowfall, the award is what the Oscars are to movie actors.

Last winter tested the mettle of both Aero and CDA. O’Hare received 50 inches of snow, more than 12 inches above normal. CDA is responsible for clearing the runways and taxiways, which are owned by the City of Chicago. But it relies on private companies, such as Aero, to clear snow from the terminals to keep the airport up and running during a snow event and to minimize delays.

“Keeping O’Hare open or minimizing the time it is shut down is a big job and one the city takes very seriously,” said George Laudermith, Aero’s General Manager. “At Aero, we share their sense of urgency about the importance of safely keeping planes coming in and out; we do everything in our power to help them accomplish that.”

Aero is always ready

Aero maintains facilities in nearby Des Plaines so it can become operational on short notice. The vagaries of Chicago’s winters make it difficult to predict how many times it will be necessary to call out the troops — but Aero is always on the ready.

“Of course, you never know how many snow events you’re going to have during the course of a winter,” said Laudermith. “Through the years, we’ve had as few as 15 and as many as 23 in a single season. We might get called out for as little as a half an inch, but that half an inch can take up to 24 hours to clear. If we get a foot, we’re probably going to be on the job night and day straight through for four days or more. We do whatever it takes to get the job done.”

Meeting the challenge with the right equipment

The equipment Aero stages at O’Hare boggles the mind. The company maintains a dedicated fleet of 85 wheel loaders at the airport, ready 24/7 to spring into action at the first sight of snow.

“This is not a part-time job where a contractor can mobilize his equipment at the last moment and hope to make it on time,” emphasized Laudermith. “Then if he doesn’t make it, say, ‘Sorry, we tried.’ Trying isn’t good enough. Failure is not an option. This job is like that of a firefighter. We’re not clearing snow every day, but we’re on call 24/7 and we’ve got to be prepared and ready to go at a moment’s notice. Once we get a call, we’re required to be working within two hours.”

In order to be ready for those 15 to 23 times a year that they are needed, Aero has 15 full-time employees who work year-round. The company calls in seasonal operators to work snow events — as few as a dozen for a small event — up to as many as 150 for a major storm.

Cutting-edge snow melters

You may think Aero simply pushes the snow and then trucks it to a remote corner of the airport. Think again. Aero has led the way in research and development of state-of-the-art snow melters, which it builds at its New York facility. Aero’s most powerful unit, which it invented, melts at the rate of an incredible 600 tons per hour. It takes 16 million BTUs to convert one hundred tons of snow into water. A loader operator dumps the snow into the melter and voila! — the snow is converted into water, which, in turn, empties into a drain. Dirt and debris collect in a hopper that is periodically cleaned out.

“We have 11 state-of-the-art melters at O’Hare,” Laudermith proudly stated. “We design and build them ourselves. Powered by proprietary burners, each unit can burn almost 700 gallons of diesel fuel per hour to melt 600 tons of snow per hour. Nobody in the industry can come close to doing what we do when it comes to melting snow.”

Indeed, when it comes to melting, Aero has the market cornered at O’Hare. “That means we melt the snow we clear and the snow the CDA clears from the runways, as well as the snow that other contractors working on-site clear,” explained Laudermith. “We all push the snow into piles near drains where our melters are positioned. We then use two wheel loaders to work each pile, dumping buckets of snow into melters. Within seconds, the snow is turned into water, which is discharged like a fire hydrant into the nearby drains. Each melter can handle a loader bucket of snow every few seconds. We don’t leave the airport until every bit of snow is down the drain.”

Laudermith says melting is far more efficient and cost-effective than trucking the snow away and it’s much safer. “We used to have too many trucks running around out here on the runways and taxiways, hauling away the snow. It was costly, slow and not at all fuel-efficient. It was also a madhouse with trucks going every which way. This is much better from every respect.”

New wheel loaders — centerpieces of the fleet

To help clear the snow and feed the melters, Aero has 18 Komatsu wheel loaders — nine WA320-6 models and nine WA380-6 models. Per city spec, the WA320s are equipped with specially made 6.01-cubic-yard buckets and the WA380s with 30-foot blades. Purchased brand new in 2009, the Komatsus are the centerpiece of Aero’s mobile equipment fleet.

“To my knowledge, we are the first and only company to ever buy brand-new wheel loaders to be used at O’Hare,” said Laudermith. “It’s really unheard of because it’s a huge investment for machines that are probably used less than 200 hours per year. But company President Peter Dejana’s attitude is, ‘We’re a first-class organization. This is not a part-time job for us. It’s all we do, and because of that, we need to be better than everybody else. And I can tell you, the new Komatsus make a difference. We’re much more productive than our competitors.’ ”

Aero also employs four full-time mechanics at the airport to ensure that the melters and the mobile equipment are ready to perform when needed.

“We consider Komatsu to be top-of-the-line equipment,” said Laudermith. “Our units have never failed us or given us any issues. They’re the best machines out there by a long shot, and all the operators love to run them. Only my best and most conscientious operators get a Komatsu.

“And beyond the machines themselves, the support we get from Roland and Komatsu has been outstanding,” he continued. “Our Roland Sales Rep, John Kroger, is very responsive and helpful. General Manager Jim Jesuit has been great to work with. PSSR Mike Grubbs and Parts Counterman Andy Waller in Marengo both do an excellent job. Bottom line — Roland treats us the same way we try to treat our customers — which means they’re here for us anytime we need them.”

Going the extra mile

Besides the new equipment and the superiority of its melters, one other thing stands out about Aero. “We’re willing to go the extra mile for our customer,” Laudermith explained. “After all our competitors have left, we go through the entire airport with the city’s operations guys to clean up. We get what was overlooked or left behind when everybody was running hot and heavy during the storm. It’s an extra detail, but it’s the kind of thing we do because we want to give our customer everything he wants, and then some.

“We have a team of professionals who take pride in being the best,” Laudermith explained. “Our guys care. They are committed to doing the best job and the city notices. They look very favorably upon us because of everything we bring to the table — the melters, the new equipment, the full-time staff and most of all, the ‘can-do’ attitude. It’s an excellent relationship and one we intend to keep for the long term.”