AVERTING SHUTDOWNS DIA on a mission to beat blizzards Officials want $31 million for multifunction machines that clear runways faster and melters to keep snow from piling up.

Denver International Airport is proposing to spend $31 million on high-speed, "multifunction" snow-removal machines to give the airport a better chance of staying open during blizzards.

Multifunction machines plow, broom and blow snow from runways and taxiways in one operation. Sanders also can be attached to them.

Last winter, a storm just before Christmas dumped nearly 2 feet of snow on DIA and closed the facility for 45 hours, highlighting weaknesses in the airport's snow plan, including the need for new equipment and more snow-removal crews.

In addition to acquiring up to 37 of the multifunction machines, DIA will spend at least $5 million on a snow-melting operation to keep the airport's vast ramp areas between the concourses from getting snow-clogged.

The airport will lease as many as seven machines that can each melt 600 tons of snow an hour and place them on ramp locations between the A and B concourses, between B and C, and north of C, said John Kinney, DIA's deputy manager for operations.

"We really lost it on the ramp," Kinney said, referring to snow piles that effectively shut down the movement of planes during the Dec. 20-21 storm.

DIA's old plan relied on trucking snow from ramps to snow dumps on the periphery. That system was overwhelmed in December.

Snow melters will eliminate the trucking operation, Kinney said. He said one 600-ton melter will handle the equivalent of as many as 60 large dump trucks.

DIA will rely on contractors to load snow into melters on the ramp while the airport's snow teams concentrate on runways, taxiways and de-icing pads, Kinney said.

The airport's plan calls for running nine of the multifunction snow-removal machines side-

by-side to clean a 12,000-foot-

long, 150-foot-wide runway in a single pass and getting the runway back into service for planes in 10 to 15 minutes, Kinney said.

Using conventional snow-

removal equipment last winter, DIA needed a runway shut down for up to 90 minutes to clean it, Kinney said.

DIA's plan to convert its snow-removal fleet from conventional equipment to the new machines still needs the approval of airlines and the Denver City Council.

"Yes, we're working with DIA, and, yes, it's a high priority," said Frontier Airlines spokesman Joe Hodas. "We suffered greatly as a company last year, as did our customers. We've seen the plan. The next step is to determine if it's the right plan at the right price."

Frontier lost about $13 million in revenues from the Dec. 20-21 blizzard and another storm that hit a week later.

United Airlines, DIA's largest carrier, estimated it lost about $30 million in revenues because of December's storms.

While officials don't know precisely how they will pay for the snow-plan improvements, it is likely that the cost will end up being borne by the airlines.

The total cost of DIA's snow-

plan makeover is estimated at about $41 million.

In addition, the airport plans to raise about $7 million from the sale of capital construction bonds for maintenance-storage facilities to house new snow-removal equipment.

On Wednesday, DIA officials briefed several Denver City Council members, including council president Michael Hancock, about the new plan.

Hancock said airport officials acknowledged that some of DIA's snow-removal equipment is outdated, but replacement of the machines was put on hold after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks dampened air travel and while DIA waited for United to emerge from bankruptcy.

"We're playing catch-up," Hancock said.

A full committee of the council will take up the snow plan Aug. 15.

If the airlines and City Council approve the plan, it will take until 2009 for DIA to get its full complement of multifunction snow machines, Kinney said.

For that reason, DIA will nearly double its fleet of conventional snow equipment for the upcoming snow season, as a temporary measure.

Staff writer Jeffrey Leib can be reached at 303-954-1645 or jleib@denverpost.com