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Team Spotlight: The St. Louis Downtown Airport Maintenance Crew

Team Spotlight: The St. Louis Downtown Airport Maintenance Crew
April 29, 2021 Jerry Vallely

Team Spotlight: The St. Louis Downtown Airport Maintenance Crew

Every day, the maintenance team at St. Louis Downtown Airport keeps the airport looking great and its operations running smoothly. And, they can also stare down a nasty winter storm with the best of them.

St. Louis Downtown Airport Maintenance Team

L-R: Robert Toenjes, Airport Maintenance Manager with Operations Specialists Lance Wolff, Bradley Bellmann and Randall Fechtler Jr. Operations Specialist Charles Cook not pictured.

It was this past President’s Day, February 15, when a historic winter storm dropped a half-foot of snow, ice and freezing rain onto the region over a 48-hour period. For our airport team, every snow event starts the same with staff reviewing weather forecasts, aviation weather journals, and an assortment of charts to determine what they can expect from the storm pattern, barometric pressures and the jetstream. The main objective is to find a way to continue to provide aviation services to customers, even during a historic winter weather event. Most importantly, the airport’s runway needs to be available for emergency landings – 24/7.

“Shutting down the runway is not an option,” said Robert Toenjes, Airport Maintenance Manager. “The biggest challenge during that critical night was moving the snow and finding a place to put it. We worked 16 hour shifts for three days just scooping the snow and moving it.”

Throughout the winter storm, as they do for all weather events, the maintenance crew remained onsite at the 2.5 mile-wide airport tracking field conditions, reporting conditions to pilots, and planning the best way to remove the snow given  wind speed and direction.

“It’s a balancing act, between how fast we can remove the snow, how fast the snow is accumulating, and in what direction the snow is coming from,” Robert said.

“The team faced down that winter storm with all hands on deck, using all the equipment and their mental know-how,” said Erick Dahl, Airport Director. “Working together, they were successful in removing snow accumulation around the airport without any significant issues or flight delays, and they ensured we continued to meet all FAA requirements throughout the storm.”

In addition to managing severe weather and storms, the team is responsible for the care and upkeep of the airport’s assets, including maintenance of all of the buildings including the terminal building and the fire house; managing acres of grass and landscaping; maintaining seven miles of secure fence lines; running and maintaining all the runway and taxiway lights, and painting all of the runway and taxiway markings; roof leaks; potholes; tarring cracks; electrical; clogged drains; and more.

“Maintaining St. Louis Downtown Airport is no easy task,” Erick said. “For example, let’s look at something that sounds simple, mowing. The airport has about 365 acres of grass that need to be maintained and kept below 12” in height. That’s a mowing area of about 16 million square feet. One of our mowers is about 15’ wide. If you do the math, that’s more than 200 miles of mowing – if it was all in a straight line, which it’s definitely not. If you assume the tractor goes 5 miles per hour, it takes a minimum of 40 hours of work to mow it. And it generally takes longer.”

A special thanks to our St. Louis Downtown Airport maintenance crew for making sure the third-busiest airport in Illinois can continue to provide its customers, pilots and businesses with first-class amenities and service – regardless of the weather.