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      Maintaining an airport in 25 feet of snow

      Bill Voght, equipment operator at the Houghton County Memorial Airport, is up before most beginning his day at 4 a.m. to make sure flights can make a safe landing.

      â??Weâ??ll plow it off, get our numbers for the airline. Then, typically, we have to fuel the jet by that time, and weâ??ll do another assessment of the runway right before they leave,â?? explained Voght. â??Weâ??ll start blowing snow, and then usually by nine oâ??clock, itâ??s time to start the whole process again for the afternoon flight.â??

      With two passenger flights, two cargo flights, and various private flights every day accounting for nearly 60,000 airport customers annually, it takes about $20,000 of diesel to keep the plows, snow-throwers, and sanders fueled up each winter.

      Though the runway is only 6,500 feet long and 150 feet wide, the average annual snowfall of 300-plus inches keeps workers busy.

      â??Pretty much, with the amount of pavement that we have to keep clear, youâ??re just driving,â?? Voght said. â??As soon as youâ??re done, you start over again.â??

      Just eight workers man the machines, and they do more than plow and sand. They are also responsible for collecting data about runway conditions to send to each flightâ??s pilots.

      â??Theyâ??re also firemen, fuelers, the maintenance if we have a boiler issue; if we have something go wrong like somebodyâ??s car is stuck and they need a jump,â?? said airport manager Dennis Hext.

      Voght said they rarely close the runway, but let each pilot decide to land or not under the current conditions.

      He said keeping an airport open in one of the snowiest places in the country is no small feat.

      â??A lot of places are staffed with more people but they have snow as something that just happens,â?? he said. â??We deal with snow in a more offensive manner getting ready for it and preparing.â??

      â??If you go to another airport in the country, they have what they call a â??snow event,â??â?? Hext added. â??That snow event, when the storm goes through, might last for six hours, twelve hours, maybe two hours. Here, we have a snow event that starts in December and ends at the end of February, maybe, if weâ??re lucky.â??

      So next time your flight gets delayed for weather, just remember the crews braving the freezing temps to help you get home safe.

      â??Theyâ??re experts in their field because they work 20 hours a day, 10 hour shifts,â?? Hext said. â??So, they definitely get their practice.â??