Weather Challenges Airport Operations Year-round

For airport ground operations, every season brings different weather challenges. These adverse conditions can cause problems for ramp safety and operational efficiency.

In summer, heat waves can leave staff exposed to potentially dangerous temperatures and damage the road and ramp surfaces. While for lightning or high wind prone areas, those storms are a safety threat for personnel working outside and can interrupt or delay refueling schedules. Wintry conditions are also a challenge. Snow and ice are no friends of airport ground staff, resulting in de-icing treatments, slower turnaround times, and reduced capacity on the ramp.

Using a year-round weather solution for airport ramp operations and airside operations, supported by a solution to deal with the specific challenges of winter means airport teams can stay ahead of adverse weather conditions.


The impact of lightning storms

Unlike the common expression, lightning can and often does strike the same place twice, meaning a previous strike is no protection against additional lightning. Real-time lightning detection networks exist across the globe, monitoring and tracking active storms. Operators can harness this technology, along with radar, to monitor the surrounding area. They can use the information to alert crews to dangerous approaching weather before it’s visible to the human eye.

The priority for operational teams is to safely and skillfully complete their maintenance tasks. With the noise from aircraft and other equipment on the ramp, approaching storms can be difficult to hear, so they need external tools to monitor weather conditions and receive timely alerts.


How heat waves can affect ramp operations

Ramp operations aren’t immune to disruptions in the summer. Extreme heat and humidity can result in unsafe working conditions for ground personnel. High temperatures result in higher levels of fatigue, which can cause higher incident and accident rates.

The heat can also make equipment and the road surface dangerously hot to touch and, in extreme cases, cause the road surface to deteriorate or melt.


High winds in tropical climates

Tropical weather and hurricanes can and do bring significant disruptions and destruction to airports. Strong wind gusts can cause damage to terminals and other buildings across the airport. There is also potential for airplanes parked at the airport to be damaged. To mitigate risk and keep crews safe, airport operations need to have an all-hands-on-deck approach for weather conditions to make critical decisions well in advance of impending storms.


Dealing with wintry conditions

Mitigating the impact of winter conditions on the ramp is not easy. It requires the right decision at the right time, to keep airports both operational and safe. Making the right call relies on careful planning and accurate weather data. Without adapting to the conditions and taking steps to mitigate the impact of the weather, it can cause operational delays and even result in temporary airport closures.

For airport operations managers having access to reliable weather data helps:

  • Decide on surface treatments: Use the weather data to decide when teams need to treat surfaces. Plan which personnel are required and which chemical treatment to use.
  • Validate decisions: Use historical data, like archived RWIS (Road/Runway Weather Information System) measurements, past action logs, and runway weather forecasts to check and validate decision making.
  • Plan resources: Use runway weather forecasts to plan for personnel, chemicals, and maintenance of equipment.


How to mitigate the impact of adverse weather conditions

Since adverse conditions are inevitable, the secret to preparing is to have the right weather data. For a complete approach, airport operational teams typically use a year-round weather solution to cover all seasons and an enhanced solution in winter for a seasonal-specific approach.

Importantly, accuracy is essential when dealing with something as unpredictable as the weather. There are differences between freely available sources and high-quality data. This improvement is due to the combination of data sources, weather models, forecasting systems, specialists, and technologies, which weather experts rely on to improve their forecasting accuracy.

Data from specific weather stations, including RWIS stations, which measure ramp surface temperature and condition, can be integrated into the forecast to improve this accuracy. This improves decision making because it ensures that the forecasts use hyperlocal data – data based on the conditions of a precise location, instead of a general area.

Investing in a right year-round weather solution can help airport operations prepare for all types of weather, keeping crews and passengers safe and wings in the air.

DTN Risk Communicator can bring significant value leading up to, during, and after any seasonal weather event.