Accustomed to managing regular snowfalls during the winter period, the services of Geneva International Airport (GVA) had to cope for 36 hours with an exceptional situation that required the closure of the Airport to air traffic at 21:00 on Tuesday 30 November until 06:00 on Thursday 2 December.
Flanked by representatives of the Airport’s various partners (airlines, ground handling companies, on-board catering, refuelling companies, MeteoSwiss, International Security Police, etc.), the Airport authorities met on Tuesday 30 November 2010 in a preventive "snow committee", convened to monitor developments concerning the weather warning announced by the Confederation.
Given the critical state of the snow cover of facilities, and taking into account the short- and medium-term weather forecast, it was decided to close the runway to air traffic at 21:30.
Since the snow had continued to fall throughout the early hours of clearing, the quantities to be removed (almost 40 centimetres accumulated) had reached exceptional peaks in record time, which meant that traffic areas could be reopened to movement only at 06:00 this morning, Thursday 2 December 2010.
60,000 cubic meters of snow in total were removed from the runway alone (which is 3,900 meters long and 50 meters wide, or almost 40 football fields), while the 260 hectares of tarmac were cleared of no less than 200,000 cubic meters of snow.
The snow-clearance operations mobilized a variety of staff from the GVA Security, Operations and Technology divisions. They joined the battle of snowploughs, de-icers, and snow blowers. As is usual in the event of heavy snowfalls, these employees were backed up by private drivers who provided carrier trucks, loaders and bulldozers.
Nearly 80 vehicles altogether took part in these operations without interruption, mobilizing a hundred or so men and women.
A total of 251 departing flights were cancelled during this period, as were 254 arriving flights.
Several hundred people suffered inconvenience from these cancellations. Some of them, including passengers who were disembarked from aircraft ready for take off, ended up on Tuesday night in the terminal with no longer any buses, trains or taxis serving the airport.
Moreover, there were no more hotel rooms available in the city and surrounding areas.
Faced with a crisis situation, the Airport authorities installed about a hundred spare beds in conference rooms to accommodate the most vulnerable passengers. They were served a hot meal during the evening, and drinks were distributed.
By agreement with the City of Geneva authorities, some 200 other passengers were directed to Civil Protection shelters, which were specially opened for the occasion. The shelters were operational less than three hours after the facilities were closed.
Physically present in the terminal on the arrivals level, GVA Reception staff were on duty late into the evening to inform passengers as the situation developed. The Airport switchboard took some 545 phone calls lasting a total of 7 hours and 45 minutes. The website received 310,070 hits with 89,533 page views (compared with a daily average of 10,364 hits and 42,555 page views).