Denver International Airport (DIA) has six runways, five of which are 12,000 feet in length. But the sixth, stretching 16,000 feet in length, gives DIA the bragging rights to having the longest runway in the country. “It’s hard to put into words the size of it,” Ron Morin, DIA’s Director of Field Maintenance, said.

DIA has over 500 lane miles of public and airfield operating area roadways. That’s a lot of surface area, and doesn’t even begin to include the seven modules of enclosed parking, 46,000 parking spots and three levels of roadways in and out of the east and west terminals. Most of these areas are cleaned as needed, and they need to be cleaned a lot, ranging from every other day to once a week.

The airport also has approximately 65 million square feet of concrete areas that require daily cleaning, three shifts per day. Morin said, “We also have a large ground transportation holding lot for cabs, limos, busses and vans that gets cleaned every night.” The airport uses two swing shift crews made up of ten people—nine workers and one supervisor each—with five of each crew dedicated to completing the sweeping and maintenance work throughout Denver International Airport.

With all that runway, parking lot and roadway space, the airport needs a large fleet of equipment to handle the maintenance. Six Boschung Vacuum Sweepers average approximately 13,884 miles of cleaning each year, logging miles on ramps, runways and taxi areas. Nine Elgin Sweepers are used for cleaning parking lots and airport roadways and accrue 6,515 miles of cleaning per year.

Two Elgin Crosswinds and two Sentinels make up the four vacuum sweeper units DIA uses to clean aircraft parking and ramp areas. Those four units are also used for sucking up concrete chunks when Morin and his crew do spall repairs. Due to Denver’s fluctuating climate, the concrete expands and contracts with the weather, causing problem areas that need to be cut out and sucked up with either the Elgin or the Sentinel sweepers.

Sand and chemical debris are additional problems that need to be dealt with, but instead of being sucked up by a vacuum sweeper, the build-up is blown out of the centerline light lenses on the runways that can become obscured, especially after a snow event. Sand and liquid chemicals are put down on those areas to increase friction during takeoff and landing, as well as when planes are taxiing.

The airport uses two Airforced One blower units, which operate at 450mph, and are used to clean that build up of debris out of the light fixtures, making them bright and visible again. Prior to having the Airforced One blowers, Morin said they used to use a pull behind compressor with a wand to do the job, which would take two or three days to complete. Now, the entire process takes about three hours.

Morin said, “Not many airports can probably say this, but we have underground tunnels.” The tunnels are used for transporting luggage and, at 5800 feet long with additional arteries, they need to be maintained too. DIA utilizes 10 Tenant Sweeper/Scrubbers to clean both the tunnels and enclosed parking areas. Those units log approximately 837 hours per year, not to mention the 979 hours per year that seven additional Tenant Sweeper units log cleaning the other, non-enclosed parking lots.

Morin, who is responsible for managing 173 full-time employees, has been with Denver International Airport since 1984 after he graduated from Mesa State College. When he took his first position in the maintenance division 27 years ago, his operations manager at the time told him, “You will be operating one of these divisions someday.” Since then, he has worked his way up from managing DIA’s maintenance control center to Assistant Director of Field Maintenance to his current position of Director of Field Maintenance.

There is a three hour window everyday between noon and three p.m. that the pavement is closed so Morin’s team can get out there and clean. Then, between eleven at night and four or five the next morning, when take off patterns are slower, the crew goes out again, this time performing most of the maintenance and cleaning work.

“If you stay in a place long enough, you see some interesting things,” Morin said, and while he wouldn’t classify anything he’s seen as bizarre, aside from the occasional rabbit, bird or coyote that finds its way out onto the runaway, he would classify some instances as scary. “White out and low visibility conditions can get pretty scary,” he said, as was the case with the 2006/2007 storm when Denver was subjected to 22 inches of snow. “Folks became disoriented,” he continued and said people needed some assistance in being steered back in the right direction while they were out cleaning the runways during the storm. Such is life when dealing with vast, open concrete situations.

Like Morin, Laura Coale, Director of Media Relations at DIA, described the area and the scope of it as very hard to describe if you haven’t seen it for yourself. The area is very rural and gets very dark at night.

Coale said, “I can’t imagine being out there plowing alone at night.” Morin added that there is no wind break, either and was proud to say that he has top notch people who know how to manage 26 pieces of equipment on a property as dynamic and complex as the Denver International Airport. 

Story by Megan McClure