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SLC Airport Crews Keep Flights Moving In Toughest Winter Weather

Tens of Thousands of people will be traveling through the Salt Lake City International Airport this holiday season and airport crews will work overtime to keep flights moving, even during the worst winter storms.

A dozen trucks roll down the runway clearing snow at Salt Lake City International Airport. It’s one of two crews, known as an element, working to keep the airport running after a fierce snow storm blew through Wednesday morning.

“It kind of came in really fast, but fortunately we were able to keep up with it,” says Dusty Bills.

He’s the airfield maintenance manager and oversees the snow removal operations.

“We can handle about two inches, maybe two and a half inches of accumulation per hour," Bills says. "If it gets more than that, I don’t know if anybody can keep it open at that point.”

He says an element can clear an entire runway in about 20 minutes. And when needed, they can combine the two elements and do it in about half that time.

But the crews on the ground and in the trucks are just one part of the intricate system that keeps the airport running.

Back in the terminal, in a tower at the top of a narrow set of stairs, is Bryce Royle. He’s an operations manager and helps coordinate the movements of the snow crews with the airport tower.

“Yeah, I only have seven radios, two telephones, two computers, that I do at the same time,” he says.

“So, simple?” I ask.

“Yeah, simple.”

He says it’s about a 15 to 20-minute process to get a runway closed and communicate that to everyone who needs to know. He says during big winter storms his job can be pretty scary.

“Especially when you have multiple runways closed, and multiple runways opening and closing at the same time, yeah, it get’s pretty intense.”

In total, airport crews are responsible for clearing almost 1500 acres of concrete and asphalt. It’s a responsibility they’re ready for 24 hours a day, all in an effort to keep planes moving and passengers happy. 

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