September 22, 2011 / 4:03 PM / 8 years ago

Orange armada ready for snow at Frankfurt airport

FRANKFURT (Reuters Life!) - More snow ploughs, de-icers and staff. Like other airports in Europe, Frankfurt airport is anxious to avoid a repeat of last winter’s snow chaos when about 5,000 flights were canceled.

Snowploughs clear the runways after snowfall at Frankfurt's airport December 17, 2010. REUTERS/Alex Domanski

“The orange armada,” one member of staff at Germany’s largest airport says proudly as we pass a row of bright orange snow clearing vehicles lined up at the edge of the Frankurt airport apron.

Thousands of passengers were left stranded at airports in Europe last December as heavy snow wreaked havoc on major hubs like Frankfurt, Amsterdam Schipol and London Heathrow, prompting criticism of airport operators.

“We’ve got more snow trains, more de-icing trucks, more de-icing pads and more staff,” Stefan Schulte, the chief executive of airport operator Fraport, said at the winter services training offices at Frankfurt airport.

Heathrow operator BAA said earlier this year it would invest 50 million pounds ($78 million) in better winter defenses after a report criticized its response and Virgin Atlantic threatened legal action.

“We sat down with airports in Europe and also North America to discuss what to do,” Schulte said. “Even if the winter is particularly hard, we should be prepared.”

He put Fraport’s total investment at 20 million euros ($27 million), comprising 5 million for new snow clearing vehicles, 5 million for de-icing equipment, and 10 million in employing an extra 180 people for its winter team.

The new equipment and 450-person winter team mean two runways can be cleared at the same time within 30 minutes, down from 45 minutes last year, Schulte said.

“Of course, the winter’s bound to be particularly warm now and then we’ll be annoyed,” he added.

($1 = 0.730 Euros) ($1 = 0.641 British Pounds)

Reporting by Victoria Bryan, editing by Paul Casciato

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