February 27, 2018 Back to all news

Why is snow and ice such a problem for airports?

It is essential that aircraft have enough braking action to allow them to stop safely on a runway when moving at speed. A build up of snow or ice on a runway can dramatically reduce the available friction required for braking, thus making it unsafe for aircraft. Taxiways may also be withdrawn from service for this reason.

Dublin Airport has about 600 acres of apron, taxi-way and runway to keep clear of snow and ice. In bad weather, we have a team of people working constantly to keep the airport operating. Every inch of snow on the airfield equates to about 15,000 tonnes of snow which must be cleared.

What happens to any snow that is cleared from the airfield?

The snow is transported via a convoy of trucks to specific designated areas on remote parts of the airfield where the drainage is carefully managed as part of our overall pollution control system.

How do you clear the runway, taxiways and aprons of snow?

We have up to 100 vehicles that blow, sweep and brush the snow. The vehicles run in a fan formation up and down the runway to push snow to the sides of the runway. This work continues until the runway is completely clear of snow and then the runway is then de-iced.

The runway is cleared first, followed by the taxi-ways, aircraft parking stands and other apron areas. We have more than 130 aircraft parking stands at Dublin Airport, each of which is about the size of a football pitch. We have a specialised fleet of smaller snow clearing vehicles to enable our snow teams to access areas close to parked aircraft. 

Who clears the snow?

It’s a combination of our own staff and outside contractors, all of whom have had specialist training. We update our winter weather plans every year and the preparation for snow and ice usually starts in June. During bad weather, we have staff on 12 hour shifts for the duration of any incident. Our goal is always to clear snow and ice as quickly as possible to minimise any disruption that may occur to airlines and customers. 

Why don’t you just keep going through the snow?

Safety is Dublin Airport’s main priority at all times and we only ever suspend operations for safety reasons. As soon as it is deemed unsafe for an aircraft to land or to take off, we have to immediately suspend flight operations. We then work to clear the snow as soon as possible, but we only ever resume flight operations when it is safe to do so.

We are acutely aware of passengers’ frustration when we have to suspend operations due to adverse weather conditions, however safety is always our key concern. 

Can’t you just grit the runway?

The type of grit used on roads would damage an aircraft so we use potassium acetate. We regularly spray the runway and apron areas in advance of, and also during cold weather to try and prevent a build up of ice and snow. 

How much do you invest in being winter ready?

Since 2010 we have invested about €5 million in new snow clearing equipment and we’ve also invested heavily in environmental controls specifically for snow and ice events. Every year we spend about €500,000 on our winter readiness campaign as we have contractors on standby throughout the winter and revise our plans annually. Each year we train our own staff and our external contractors to ensure we can keep any disruption to the minimum. 

What do you use to de-ice the planes?

The de-icing of aircraft is the responsibility of individual airlines rather than the airport. Airlines use de-icing fluid which is mixed with water and sprayed on their aircraft from a tanker with a cherry picker crane to allow de-icing staff to access to the entire aircraft. 

If you have all this equipment and staff ready how come you can’t guarantee that the airport will stay open?

If the runway becomes unsafe for aircraft we must suspend operations. That can happen when snow is falling faster than it can be cleared or during a prolonged snow event. Safety is our key priority and we will never compromise in relation to that. 

Where can I get the latest information on the status of the operation at Dublin Airport?

We are posting regular updates on the Dublin Airport website and you can also follow Dublin Airport on Twitter and Facebook.

How can I contact my airline to check the status of my flight?

For the latest airline information, you should check your airline’s website and/or its social media accounts. Here are the contact details for airlines operating from T1 at and for airlines operating from T2