Making runways safer, one sweep at a time
What are those machines on airport runways?
Have you ever been peering out onto the tarmac while at an airport and saw those giant machines that almost look like snowplows? A runway sweeper does basically the same thing, but for airports – it clears off debris that land on the road (or in this case, the runway).
What are runway sweepers used for?
Many airports keep high speed runway sweepers to keep tarmacs and runways free of debris. The machines sweep flat surfaces at high speed. They can also clear and/or pick up materials that may find its way to the runway and hinder a plane, like:
- Small metal objects like nuts and bolts
- Pea gravel
- And other wind-based objects
Why use a runway sweeper?
Foreign object debris on the runway can cost millions, if not billions, in damages to airplanes and other aircraft. Jet engines can end up pulling in objects from the runway, which could lead to engine failure and other malfunctions – there have even been aborted take offs and rollover accidents! Sweepers help keep runways clean, reducing debris from runways and tarmac areas, which can help with reducing damage, delays, and potentially disgruntled customers.
What is a runway sweeper equipped with?
Many sweepers can come with side brooms, rotating front brooms, side air blasts, vacuums and/or air type sweeping technology. Some have large magnets that can be attached, and some have high-pressure spray bars. Equipment varies based on the needs of the airport or facility, whose needs could range from snow (Hello, New York!) to dust storms (Hey There, Deserts of Arizona!) to seagulls (California, Anyone?) For a real-world comparison, they act like really, really, really big vacuum cleaners that you might use in your home!
How fast can a runway sweeper go?
Some sweepers can have up to 250 mpg of controlled jet air. Many sweepers clock in at 15 to 25 mph, in terms of operating while moving, and there are sweepers that go much faster. Using a sweeper is more economical for airport runway sweeping – and faster than a hand broom!
Where other kind of sweepers are there?
There are various kinds of large-area sweepers available. Some types include:
- All-purpose airport sweeper
- Parking area sweeper
- Garage sweeper
- Street sweeper
- Street patchers
They range in size from very large (think garbage truck sized) to kinds that will fit in the back of a pickup truck.
What does the FAA (or Federal Aviation Administration) suggest?
There are three general approved methods for removal of debris:
- Vacuum and brush removal
- Magnet to collect debris
- High velocity air blast
The FAA requires airports continuously monitor runways, including inspecting maintenance, repairing equipment, and replacing sweeper heads. All of this occurs to ensure the safety of passengers and aircraft.