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Aviation: Airport adverse weather closures

Manchester Airport was closed this morning from 07:30 to 10:45 due to snow on the runways. A similar scenario played out at nearby Liverpool John Lennon Airport which was shut between 07:00 and 09:50. Reports suggest four inches of wet snow fell in a fairly short period during the morning departure rush, and crews struggled to keep the concrete clear. That led to flight cancellations and delays, as well as diversions of some inbound aircraft.

This morning's snow accumulations in the northwest were the first of the year that had an impact on air travel. As the nation commences its ritual hand-wringing about its inability to deal with adverse winter weather, its worth looking at how airports in some other countries cope.

Some airports are better equipped to handle severe weather than others.

Almost all have equipment sufficient to deal only with average conditions

and most struggle when a particularly cold snap passes through.

The US Midwest is currently suffering from particularly low temperatures - records for the area but not unprecedented in aviation. So far today - and and its only 10:00 over there at the moment - 53% of the departures from Chicago O'Hare Airport (669 flights) and 52% of its arrivals (662 flights) have been cancelled. Its a similar story at nearby Chicago Midway where 62% of the planned landings and takeoffs have already been cancelled, and its major user Southwest Airlines has pretty much abandoned all operations for the day. Manchester meanwhile is running at 14% cancellations and 28% delays.

OK, the weather is much more severe in Chicago than it is in Manchester, but winters tend to be more severe there anyway. The record lows being experienced in Chicago are frequently matched in Fairbanks, Alaska or Winnepeg in Canada, and yet today there are virtually now delays at the Canadian airport.

It isn't just Chicago though. A week ago Boston Airport in the USA also almost ground to a halt as low temperatures and freezing rain produced a layer of ice on its runways which staff struggled to clear. There were plenty of cancellations, and delays of between five and seven hours became commonplace. The chaos continued for two days. Again the weather was more severe than in Manchester this morning, but it was nothing that Boston had not experienced before.

Typical winter versus severe weather

Here's the point then. Airports acquire equipment based on the typical winter weather that they experience. To buy enough to deal with exceptionally cold or snowy snaps would be uneconomic, and many vehicles would sit out of use for years on end. And then on the few occasions when extreme conditions strike, staff and clearing equipment are worked as hard as is possible. This isn't a British thing - its a global thing.<