AUBURN — When a Blue Angel jet slid off of a Brunswick runway last month, Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport Manager Rick Lanman said it exposed one of his greatest fears.

“It could happen anywhere, but I was worried that it could happen here,” Lanman said.

It could have happened in December 2013, when icy runways kept all but the smallest airplanes away from the Auburn airport. Crews could scrape the asphalt with plows and sprinkle salt and sand, but they couldn’t break the ice.

“We had heavy plows, all the cool stuff,” he said. “We just didn’t have the tools we needed to deice the airport. We just could not get the breaking action on the ice to let us get the runway open.”

But Lanman has a limited budget, and his board would never agree to let him buy the top-of-the-line equipment.

“So we had to get a little crazy, a little ambitious,” he said.


All told, Lanman said the airport has spent about $3,000 building wintertime treatment systems he estimates are worth $300,000.

“We didn’t spend a lot of money on any of the equipment,” Lanman said. “We spent a little money and a lot of know-how.”

It’s all built into two trailers that can be hitched to the back of a pickup truck.

One carries a tank of potassium acetate. The crew adds angle irons, hoses and pumps to a small trailer that allows the truck to follow the plow, spraying the ice-shedding liquid the entire length and width of the runway.

The second trailer carries an apparatus that heats a water-glycol solution to 160 degrees and pumps it through a pressure washer. A maintenance staffer on a platform uses the washer to de-ice planes as they wait for takeoff. That, too, can be hitched to a truck and towed around the plane.

“The liquid goes on all the control services, the wings and everything,” Lanman said. “It’s a service we’ve offered for a while, but it was never like this.”


Before, the ground crew used a stepladder and hand-carried a sprayer to clear ice off of the airplane wings.

“Imagine trying to put a stepladder up on a snowy surface and trying not to fall off while spraying a 2,500-pound pressure-sprayer filled with hot liquid,” Lanman said. “This makes it much more steady. The guy goes up and they pull him around the airplane, just like you would see at a larger airport. But we didn’t buy it. We built it.”

Operations Supervisor Ken Blais said the crew got the idea after attending Snowposium, the ground crew convention in Buffalo, N.Y., last year. They looked at the equipment they wanted — but couldn’t afford — and figured they could build it themselves.

“We stole the idea from a brochure there, an insert that sold for $16,000 and went in the back of truck,” Blais said. “We said we should put it on a trailer so we didn’t have to always load it and unload it from the truck.”

They used surplus trailers and angle iron to build the trailer, racks to hold it and pumps and sprayers for the rest of the equipment. Crew member Bob Poulin built an electrical system connecting the pumps to the truck’s cab, letting them control the sprayers from inside.

It lacks a GPS-controlled computerized spraying system like the more expensive models.


“But you control it from inside, the flow of product,” Poulin said.

“You have an on-off switch and you just decide how much you need,” Blais said.

It puts the small airport nearly on par with larger airports, Lanman said.

“We should be able to stay open as long as anyone else in the region,” Lanman said.

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