Behind The Scenes At Westchester County Airport

Walking the runway—and all the other ins and outs—of the local transportation hub.


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A Fort Lauderdale-bound JetBlue flight (one of the few not canceled on Thanksgiving Eve) takes off from Westchester County Airport.

Photography by Stefan Radtke

If you assumed Westchester County Airport—with its single runway and all—is a small-scale operation, you’d be wrong. With 42 flights every day, nearly 1.5 million travelers passed through the airport last year. Those travelers boarded planes from major airlines like JetBlue, United, American, and Delta to fly to destinations ranging from Chicago to Florida. And as a hub for NetJets (the Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary offering fractional ownership and rental of private business jets), 90 different companies (think the Pepsis and IBMs of the world) keep their private planes at the airport. All that adds up to an $800 million economic impact on the county. 

It’s a tough job keeping it all running smoothly under normal circumstances. But throw inclement weather into the mix, and it adds a whole new dimension. So we braved the snow and sleet during the busiest travel day of the year, Thanksgiving Eve, to get an insider’s view of it all. 

The view of the snow-topped airfield from the operations room. From here, you can see all terminals, the runway, and the control tower. 

The runway needs less than half an inch of slush or two inches of dry snow to be considered safe. Here, a snow blower (one of the 10 trucks used) clears the runway. The runway was shut down for half an hour for the trucks to remove the snow, while arriving planes circled the airport.

An airport employee uses a snow blower to clear slush from the tarmac.

This is the view from inside the operations room, or the “nerve center” as they call it. Employees here are tasked with ensuring the safety of the airfield, monitoring everything including weather, runway conditions, and flight information. Here, Victor Segarra peers through binoculars to survey the runway. To his right is a monitor displaying all flight information (take off times, landing times, delays, cancellations). The monitor on the right is radar displaying the entire New York airspace. Above Segarra is a bank of monitors displaying all security footage. The operations room is also in constant contact with the control tower (which is operated by the FAA), keeping the control tower up-to-date on any intentions to close the runway during inclement weather. 

A plane (bound for Fort Lauderdale) during pushback. Though planes can move backwards with reverse thrust, the jet blast would damage the terminal—so low-profile vehicles are used to steer the planes back before taxiing forward under their own power. 

A plane being de-iced. Ice on a plane adds weight, which could potentially cut a plane’s lift in half. Two types of liquid are used in the de-icing process. Type 1 (which is applied first) is orange and is heated to 180 degrees; the trucks that hold the liquid have a 4-million BTU heater, which heats the liquid in 10 seconds. The second liquid, which is green, is known as Type 4. It’s never heated and is a thicker liquid that helps protect the surface from ice that may be in the atmosphere during liftoff. Up to four trucks will de-ice a plane. Since it needs to be perfectly timed (each side of the plane needs to be sprayed at the same time), workers—most of whom are off-duty Yonkers firefighters—start training in July for the de-icing process.

Employees load more than 100 bags onto a JetBlue A320 aircraft (the largest plane servicing Westchester, holding 150 passengers). In the past, the airport has hired detectives to ensure no employees stole items from the bags (airports have had that problem over the years). Employees have 50 minutes from the time the plane taxis into the gate to prep for take off before the flight is considered delayed. They must de-board the passengers, take all bags off the arriving plane, clean, de-ice (if necessary), fuel, and load the luggage onto the outgoing flight during that brief window.

After checked luggage goes through TSA screening, it rolls off a conveyor belt. Here, Alejandro Del Cid grabs a bag coming through, and places it in a truck to be brought to the waiting aircraft. 

 A row of lockers separates two Osh Kosh fire trucks in the fire station located on the airfield. The suits seen here are Globe proximity suits, which reflect 90 percent of the heat from a fire. The 46,000-pound trucks (seen in the bottom right photo) can reach 70 mph in 35 seconds, and hold more than 1,800 gallons of water and AFFF, a special foam used to fight fires. The trucks can spray up to 750 gallons per minute. 

This 3,000-pound spear atop the fire truck, extends up to 50 feet, and is used to pierce the side of a downed plane, enabling firefighters to douse the flames with AFFF. 

 

 

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