Detroit Metro Airport Ground Crew Makes Skies Safe

rom plowing thick snow to the nearly constant mowing and care of almost 6,700 acres of land, the Wayne County Airport Authority maintenance team is busy all year. And its director, Angie Frakes, leads the crew with style and grace.

"No two days are alike here," Frakes says. "I like to wear my heels, but I keep my boots in the back, just in case."

Of all the duties her team tackles, Frakes says snow and ice removal are undoubtedly the most challenging.

"Snow out here last year, I'm telling you-we had a run for our money. It was a nightmare," Frakes says. "It was just that stretch of time with temperatures being below freezing, and the number of snow events that we had back to back to back. That was our biggest challenge."

Frakes' crew monitors the weather about 48 hours before every incoming snow event.


"Once we're at the onset of a snow event … our guys are here, they're fueled up, they're at the gates and they're ready to be deployed. They're out there for a full 12 hours, steadily plowing."

Next, Frakes says the team then has to clean off runway signs and lights to ensure the pilots can properly navigate to the terminal. Then the plowed snow is loaded into haulers and dumped at an off-site location. Frakes recalls after last year, the giant snow mounds didn't fully melt until early June.

"If we sense or have some indication that there's going to be a cold front coming through, we pretreat (the runway) with potassium acetate. We cannot use salt on the airfield at all. It's corrosive and does a lot of damage to the body and engine of planes. It's like what kryptonite is to Superman."

In addition to daily snow plowing and lawn mowing (to deter wildlife like coyotes and deer), Frakes and company also are responsible for removing foreign objects and debris.

"If you saw paper or a bottle cap out there, we have to pick it up-because if it gets ingested in the engine, that's a grief. Airfield safety is key," she says. "We've got about 20 miles of concrete surface between our six runway and taxiway systems."

While the pilots and planes get the glory, "Field maintenance," says Frakes, "is the heart of the operation."

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