O’Hare Airport claims top prize for winter snow removal

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Something good came out of a brutal Chicago winter that featured a relentless barrage of snow and polar vortex cold: a snow removal award for O’Hare Airport.

Even after being buried in 80.6 inches of snow, the third-highest total in airport history, O’Hare claimed the top prize for snow and ice removal from the Northeast Chapter of the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) in a category reserved for the largest U.S. airports.

Midway got an honorable mention for its efforts to remove 88.2 inches of snow, the second snowiest winter in the history of the Southwest Side airport-in-a-neighborhood.

Removing snow and ice from O’Hare runways, taxiways, roadways and parking lots is a monumental task that involves 440 city employees and 200 city-owned pieces of equipment.

During major storms, that army can be supplemented by 600 drivers and more than 280 additional plows and trucks supplied by private contractors to clear gate, ramp and cargo areas. The city also has 10  snow and ice melters positioned at “pre-determined ramp and cargo area locations.”

Together, the inside and outside teams are responsible for clearing snow and ice from 14 miles of runways, 45 miles of taxiways and 20 million square feet of “hold pads, hardstands and ramp areas” surrounding O’Hare’s 189 gates.

Land-locked Midway Airport is a whole lot easier to manage, with just 1-square mile of space and 43 gates. The snow removal team there includes 155 city employees and 60 pieces of snow removal equipment augmented by 50 pieces of outside equipment and two snow melters.

The so-called “Balchen/Post Award” is named after Wiley Post and  Col. Bernt Balchen, an Arctic explorer and aviator. Together, Balchen and Post founded the International Aviation Snow Symposium.

O’Hare has won the top prize, known as the Balchen/Post award, five times before: in 1978, 1988, 1989, 1999 and 2010. O’Hare got honorable mentions in 2000 and 2011.

“Maintaining safe and efficient operations during snow events at O’Hare and Midway is a task that requires months of preparation, highly-skilled and dedicated personnel, state-of-the-art equipment and close coordination with the FAA and our airline partners,” Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino was quoted as saying in press release.

Andolino said the “hard work and dedication” of a army of city employees and private contractors made certain that O’Hare and Midway “maintained safe and efficient operations throughout one of the coldest and snowiest winters in Chicago history.”

She also thanked the Northeast Chapter of the AAAE for “recognizing the important work of snow and ice control at our nation’s airports.”

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