Keeping the airport's runways and taxiways safe and free of snow and ice, especially this winter, is no small task. It takes a regiment of maintenance workers, a fleet of snow-removal equipment and four snow bosses.
That's right – snow bosses.
Craig Williams is one of them, along with his job as Fort Wayne International Airport's operations manager and director, maintenance manager and public safety manager.
"This winter has been horrible," Williams said late Tuesday as employees readied the airport for another winter blast.
Snow bosses keep a close eye on the weather and check forecasts constantly, Williams said.
In light of the approaching storm, the snow boss team met Tuesday morning and scheduled their shifts for the next 48 hours.
"We take turns, so there is always a snow boss – sometimes two – available," Williams said.
The snow boss is called in when the first flakes fall, he said.
Acting as the liaison between maintenance crews and the air traffic control tower, the snow boss keeps an eye on air traffic and advises maintenance crews on what needs to be done.
Having one person oversee maintenance of the runways and taxiways cuts down on radio chatter, Williams said.
"If the tower had to talk to everyone about the condition of runways, there would be constant chatter; it's better to have one person in charge of communications," he said.
The well-orchestrated teamwork keeps the runways open at all times, something that airport officials are especially proud of, Williams said.
During inclement weather, "there might be delays or cancellations, but it hasn't been because our runways were not available," he said.
Keeping those runways and taxiways clear is like a choreographed dance.
The machinery – six to eight plow trucks, snow brooms and industrial snow blowers – spread across the runway. With precise timing, each operator performs his assigned task, coordinating with the others, as they make their way down the runway, Williams said.
The snow blowers are capable of heaving the snow 100 feet away from the runway. All the pavement must be kept smooth and level, even along the sides, Williams said.
"There cannot be piles of snow along the edge or the (airplane) wings might hit it," he explained.
Thousands of flights were canceled, mostly in the Northeast, as the winter storm took hold Wednesday. The domino effect of those canceled flights affected airports in the Midwest, which were forced to cancel flights as well.
Three of Fort Wayne International Airport's 16 scheduled arrivals and eight of its 17 departures were canceled Wednesday, Williams said.
But even when flights are canceled, the snow removal team doesn't slow down.
"It doesn't mean we stop; we continue to clean the runways and taxiways," he said.