Winter operations in the frozen city – or: Welcome to winter!
How our Cargo colleagues work in the ice-cold conditions in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia
The people of Krasnoyarsk are used to bone-chilling cold in winter. But this time, the city in Siberia is even deeper frozen than normal. Water mains are bursting. Cars are parked with their engines running or they would never start again. Temperature: down to minus 47 degrees Celcius! Even though the thermometer is heading down towards 50 degrees. "Our aim is to keep operations going here whatever the circumstances," stresses Station Manager Arto Nieminen. This is down to him and his eight-man team, and the substantial support of five engineers from Lufthansa Technik.
Nieminen only planned to stay at Lufthansa for six months. "In 1970, I had the choice between joining the army or working with freight operations in Frankfurt for six months," explains the Finn. Nieminen opted for the freight – and is still there today. He has been in charge of what must be the iciest station on any Lufthansa Cargo route since 2009 – around 6,000 kilometres away from Frankfurt.
The station may only be a stopover landing between Europe and Asia. But there is plenty to do in Krasnoyarsk: The station handles a total of 31 flights per week. The aircraft are refuelled here, the crew switch over and the paperwork for the Russian customs authorities is completed. Nieminen's team also ensure the provision and maintenance of all ground equipment in Krasnoyarsk. In summer, the station also trains airport employees in de-icing the MD-11. Before the big freeze, they also need to make sure they have enough anti-freeze to hand. This winter, the de-icers are more in demand than ever: "In November and December 2012 alone we used as much fluid as in the whole of winter 2011," explains Maxim Reprintzev, Operations Team Leader.
Then it is out onto the tarmac. The take-off and landing of the next MD-11 are on the agenda. The thermometer is reading minus 37 degrees, an icy wind is blowing. The place is buzzing. Clearing vehicles are sweeping the snow and ice off the frozen concrete. Trucks are thundering across the tarmac to transport the piled-up heaps of snow away. A tow truck is currently pushing "Charlie November" which is ready to take off from its parking position. Shortly afterwards, "Charlie Delta" arrives and rolls into its position.
At the same time, Station Engineer Ralf Augspurger begins with the arrival check and uses his headset to contact the captain to find out about any technical problems. While he does this, the ground crew buzzes about with a heater to warm the nose wheels. Augspurger explains the procedure: "We have had problems in the past with some of the seals in the nose landing gear resulting in oil leaks because of the cold." Even the APU (Auxiliary Power Unit), which provides the central systems of the MD-11 with power when the engines are switched off, can fail at these low temperatures. In this case, the cockpit and belly need to be kept at the right temperature with a heater. Augspurger often has to take off his gloves to work on the aircraft – which is no fun at minus 37 degrees.
After the crew switchover, the captain checks the areas which are prone to ice very carefully. This includes the bearing surfaces, but also the insides of the engines and the engine blades. One thing quickly becomes clear: "Charlie Delta" needs to be de-iced. Two de-icing vehicles are normally standing ready, but only one appears. "One of the vehicles has just broken down," curses Nieminen. "Now we really need to work quickly, as the effect of the de-icing lasts a maximum of 40 minutes. The MD-11 can then take off for Frankfurt on time and the station manager's team have done their job perfectly. The second vehicle is ready again by the next morning. Nieminen has repaired the vehicle himself quickly as nobody was available from the manufacturer at such short notice.
When asked how he survives the cold winter, Nieminen laughs, "Anywhere I live longer than six months, I build my own sauna."