Geneva International Airport emerges from weekend crisis


During the course of Sunday, 10 January 2010, Geneva International Airport (GVA) experienced exceptional weather conditions. The volume of snow that accumulated in a few hours on the runway and apron forced the airport authorities to close the Airport to air traffic between 06:00 and 12:00. Most flights were able to operate in the afternoon, and traffic returned to normal by late afternoon. The last passengers whose flights had to be cancelled were able to take off during the morning of Monday, 11 January 2010.

Airfield managers are responsible for the safety of movements on their airports. This means they have to ensure in particular that manoeuvring areas are kept in a state of readiness to receive aircraft.
In the event of snowfalls, the runway must provide sufficient braking friction, marker lighting must remain visible, and snowdrifts must be cleared from the immediate vicinity of the runway.
In addition, the apron must allow the movement of all types of vehicle (aircraft, push back tractors, flight catering and ground handling trucks, kerosene supply tankers, cars, etc.).
Once weather conditions reach a point where it is no longer possible to guarantee the safety of air traffic, passengers, crews and all airport employees, the decision is taken to stop traffic. Outbound and inbound flights are suspended, aircraft already in the air are diverted to other airports and facilities are reopened to traffic only when safety conditions are restored.

Geneva International Airport has a single runway 3,900 metres long and 50 metres wide, and access ramps with a total area equivalent to 40 football fields. The apron has an area of approximately 180 hectares. GVA is one of the few European airports that carry out snow removal operations while the airport is operating. In order to do this, it coordinates the entry of snow gear onto the runway with air traffic control. Since it takes a snowplough about 18 minutes to travel the length of the runway, traffic is usually  temporarily put on hold, with inbound aircraft being sent to holding areas before being slotted back into the approach pattern. Operations are stopped completely only in the event of a massive snowfall, in record time, if weather conditions favour crystallization of the snow and traditional methods do not permit clearing it in record time, as happened on Sunday morning.

The snow fell during the night, in temperature conditions that favoured crystallization. Very quickly, despite the immediate deployment of all snow clearance resources, the Airport was covered with a layer of snow about ten centimetres deep on average, and up to 25 centimetres in some places because of the wind . Efforts were focussed throughout the night on keeping the runway in a suitable condition to receive traffic. At the same time, the snow on the apron was pushed into heaps. It soon formed a drift a metre high, two metres wide and several hundred metres long. The snow then had to be loaded into trucks to be removed. Hundreds of trucks carted away tons of snow.
A total of 54 vehicles (snowploughs, brushes, scrapers, trax, trucks, etc.) were deployed. A hundred or so men were mobilized. 17 meetings of the "snow committee" consisting of representatives of the divisions of the Airport, partners, airlines and air traffic control, were convened to manage operations throughout the crisis. No less than 118 Snowtam messages (messages sent to pilots indicating the type and amount of contamination of movement aids and giving the braking coefficient) were drafted. After traffic resumed, at 12:06 exactly, 424 flights were operated by 0:29, at a record average rate of 35 movements an hour.

Tremendous efforts were made by all stakeholders of the airport community to emerge from this crisis situation in less than six hours. The Management of GVA thanks its staff for their unfailing commitment and thanks the media for having communicated these explanations to all the passengers whose flights were delayed or cancelled on Sunday.