The Local 49 operators and shop personnel technicians of the Metropolitan Airports Commission at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport were a part of the team that recently won the Balchen/Post Award, which is for excellence in airport snow and ice control, from the American Association of Airport Executives – NE Chapter.
Mark Rudolph is the planning manager of the field maintenance department of the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) and says winning this award is like “winning the Stanley Cup.”
“The criteria for this award are based on the degree and depth of how we’re prepared for winter storms. Such as what’s our snow and ice plan, the training we offer, the equipment we have, and the safety awareness,” Rudolph explained.
“Then they look at the timeliness and accuracy of how we’re communicating to other airport personnel, the airlines, and other airport users. Finally, they look at what we do after the snowstorm, which is when our work really begins,” he added.
The MAC won this award back in 2001 but winning it again this year was special.
“These folks practically live here, especially during the winter, they work long hours, and so it’s a great feeling that all the effort and time spent was worth it and is recognized,” Rudolph said.
The MAC employs two sets of Local 49 members; there are six full-time operators and 14 full-time shop personnel technicians.
The operators are responsible for the snow removal of the runways, taxiways, ramps, around aircraft gates, and around the entire airport campus. They also are in charge of pushing snow into MSP’s de-ice pads, which melts the snow. During a snowstorm, crews could work up to 16 hours a day for multiple days. In the summer, operators are primarily responsible for pavement repairs.
“Everyone is assigned an area to work and during a storm, crews work up to 16 hours then we break them for 6-7 hours. In our main facility, we have bunks, we provide them with meals, and employees are on the clock for the entire duration,” Rudolph said.
Al Gallas has been an operator at MSP since 2006 and has been through several winter storms.
“We’re here as soon as the forecast calls for more than an inch of snow and the six of us could be here from Monday to Friday straight just for the removal of snow, especially if more snow is expected to come,” Gallas said.
“It can be challenging at times, especially when it’s nearly white out because it’s tough to see your surroundings and we are working in very close proximity to the aircraft, and there’s always vehicles running around, so you constantly have to be on the watch,” he added.
While the job can be difficult at times, Gallas says he takes a lot of pride in what he does, and it’s a rewarding career.
“It’s rewarding to know that we’re all out there making sure that there are still flights that can make it on and out, so it makes you feel good. We’re a part of keeping this place running,” Gallas said.
Gallas also noted that winning the Balchen/Post Award is a testament to the hard work of their crew.
“It’s bragging rights for us because it says that we were the best airport in the world of our size that was able to get through another tough winter without closures and with minimal operational impacts. There was so much time spent by a lot of good people this past winter because the storms just kept rolling in, so I’m proud of what we did,” Gallas said.
Jim Curtis has been a Local 49 member and mechanic technician for
the MAC since 1997 and is also the Local 49 Union Steward for the mechanic group.
Over the years he has seen technology in the vehicles he maintains, and repair change drastically.
“It’s sometimes tough diagnosing an issue because when I first started, it was mostly rebuilding engines, and now it’s all electronic, so more of my job now is focused on electrical issues,” Curtis said.
“When you do find what the issue is, tear it apart, and put it back together it’s always a good feeling,” he added.
Curtis has been a union steward since 2007 and says he’s proud of the progress that has been made with the help of Local 49.
“It’s a good way to be involved, to keep us moving forward, and to protect other workers. I believe strongly in unions, and it’s important when management sees the quality that comes out of labor and quality workers. That’s what you get with the union,” Curtis said.
Curtis was employed at the MAC the first time the MSP crew won the Balchen/Post Award, and he says he’s proud he’s part of the team that won it again.
“It’s a big deal to win this, and we try and stay on top of the storms and keep up with all the repairs that need to complete. This airport has only closed a couple of times, and I think that really says something,” Curtis said.
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