Mar. 9—HAZLE TWP. — A new piece of equipment will reduce the time it takes crews at Hazleton Regional Airport to clear the runway of snow and debris and create safer conditions for aircraft, city officials said.
With snow expected Friday, it could soon hit the asphalt.
City and airport personnel hosted a training session Thursday at the airport for a multi-tasking vehicle called a Wille 856 MTE.
The machine, which was obtained with about $360,000 in funds from the state Department of Transportation Bureau of Aviation, resembles a wheel loader or front-end loader. A 16-foot plow blade is mounted at the front and there's an 11-foot-wide broom in the rear. An air blast component that can be placed over the engine compartment should be delivered in the next few weeks, officials said.
All three of those functions can operate simultaneously.
Airport Director Dave Chronowski, Community and Economic Development Director Joseph Zeller III and representatives from the Fortbrand dealership said during the training session that the vehicle will give crews a more efficient means to maintain the runway.
"This is a multi-tasking piece of equipment," Chronowski said. "The advantage of this is one person can operate this and have three functions going on at the same time. You are doing the job of three people as one person. It is critical and crucial to this airport because we don't have a lot of staff. We could get more accomplished."
Carlton Braley, senior vice president of Fortbrand, said a portion of the aviation industry that is subject to snow has moved toward "multi-tasking equipment" over the past decade.
Chronowski said the new vehicle replaces an antiquated single-axle plow at the airport, will save employees time and will reduce the risk of getting injured while working to swap attachments on older vehicles.
"Say you have a full-blown snow storm going on and you have the plow on ... you're out there with the plow and now you want to broom it," Chronowski said. "You take the plow off. You have to work with hydraulic lines and in the meantime, it's still snowing. It takes a while to get (attachments) on and off. By having everything on this (new) unit, you don't have to worry about taking anything on and off."
Those efficiencies could be crucial in emergency situations that could require a response from a medical helicopter, Braley said.
"The idea is during snow removal, you want to keep your airport open," he said.
The new vehicle runs on diesel fuel and meets the latest emissions standards, Fortbrand Director Dean Schwabish said.
It can operate at up to 25 mph.
With the runway at Hazleton Regional Airport just under a mile long, officials estimate that the new machine could have it cleared in eight passes, or in about 20 minutes.
Crews can also run the machine in the summer and use the air blast component to keep the runway clear of stones and other debris, he said.
Schwabish said he has been working with Chronowski to finalize the deal over two years. The purchase is notable as Hazleton's airport is the first small general aviation airport to purchase a Wille with state funds, according to Schwabish.
The purchase required a 10% match, which came from the airport fund. No money from the city's general fund went toward the vehicle.
Airport staff will participate in a recurring training program for the Wille.
Hazleton Mayor Jeff Cusat said the equipment will make for safer conditions at the airport, while Zeller said it will help reduce the amount of time that runways are closed due to inclement weather.
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