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Everyone knows it’s going to snow at some point at the Minot International Airport.
Hopefully, that doesn’t happen anytime soon. But if it does, Alex Choi and the rest of his operations team are ready.
“Yes, sir. If it snowed tomorrow, we’re ready to go,” Choi said in early November. “Well, I guess we’d be 95 percent ready because we have one plow undergoing maintenance that we’re waiting for parts for. But we’re ready.”
The snow removal equipment building at the airport contains a wide variety of equipment for removing snow. Small skid steers with brushes or scoops on the front? Yep. Enormous snowblowers. Got em. Trucks with plows mounted on the front. Yes, sir. Giant pile of sand? Ready to go. Glycol to help get rid of ice? Lots of it.
Everything Choi’s team needs to battle winter weather seems to be ready to go, whether it’s a light dusting of snow or a full-on blizzard.
“When the snow starts falling, we check on the airfield to see if anything is accumulating,” said Choi, who was promoted to operations foreman in March. “The Federal Aviation Administration’s rule is 1 inch of dry snow, but we don’t wait that long. It would be too late. If we start to see a thin layer of snow or the center line of the taxiway is covered up, we start snow removal operations.”
Choi said his 10-person crew constantly monitors the weather through a variety of weather services, trying to anticipate weather-related issues before they happen.
“Obviously if pilots can’t see the lines on the runway or taxiway, it’s dangerous,” he said. “We have to follow FAA rules. There are some guidelines that aren’t mandatory, but we follow them anyway because they make sense.”
Choi has been part of the operations team since 2015, but this will be his first winter as the foreman. He’s hoping for a dry, quiet winter, but he knows better. He knows it’s likely there will be severe winter weather that threatens to close the airfield.
“You can’t always keep up with Mother Nature. Eventually if you can’t keep up with clearing snow, you have to close the airport for everyone’s safety,” Choi said. “Passengers don’t always know the severity of what’s going on, and I understand when they get mad because their flight can’t leave. I want everyone to get where they’re going, too, but we have to keep everybody safe.”
When those situations arise, Choi said the final decision to close the airport is made by Airport Director Jennifer Eckman, with input from Choi and his supervisor, Operations Manager Deanna Stoddard. No one wants to have to make that call, but sometimes it’s unavoidable.
“We do our best to keep the runways open. That’s our job,” Choi said. “But sometimes we need time to catch up with snow removal to make sure flying out of Minot is safe."