Polar bears on the runway!

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol has polar bears running about. And, no, they are not growling on an ice floe or hiding in the snow. Our polar bears are the members of office staff who are called up to drive our snow sweepers when wintry storms blow in. And they are ready and able to face the coldest season of the year.

Polar bears in office garb

In the winter, some 475 Schiphol employees work together to keep our airport as clear of ice and snow as possible. Of these, 135 are polar bears. These are colleagues who normally work in the offices, but have been trained to drive snow sweepers as well. From the mail room to the board room, our polar bears hail from every level within the organisation. All they need is a driver’s licence!

Taking the snow sweepers for a spin

But not just anyone can call themselves a polar bear. It takes a great deal of training to earn the name. And there is no such thing as starting to prepare too early! In fact, the theoretical introduction kicks off in the summer. Then, in October, our polar bears hit the road for the first time – because driving one of those huge snow-moving monster trucks obviously takes a bit of practice. During this period, they practice about ten times, in order to be able to drive in formation with the entire snow fleet. These training sessions are mostly held at night, as there is less air traffic then.

Winter is coming

Is it starting to snow? Time for action! Two teams of polar bears, with 15 vehicles, sweep all the snow off the runways. The aircraft stands, such as those at the gates, must also remain free from snow and ice, so that the aircraft have a clear place to park. To accomplish this, we have five snow squads who take direction from our polar bears. While sweeping the snow, we also spray an anti-freeze liquid onto the runways to prevent ice from forming. This is a different substance than is used on roads, as ‘regular’ salt is too corrosive for the metal of the aircraft.

(Polar) bearing with it

Every snow shift, around twenty polar bears work to keep our airport free of snow and ice. Their shifts last up to a maximum of eight hours. If the snow is still falling after that, a new team will pick up where the old one left off. That is how we make sure you can fly to your destination with no trouble at all. So bring on the winter – our polar bears live for snow.