Once Mother Nature unleashes her snowy wrath, maintenance crews take on a slew of duties. At the Outagamie County Regional Airport (ATW), in Appleton, Wisconsin, a small operation of five sanitation workers keeps the facilities clean for the 20-25 flights that head in and out each day. ATW's crucial winter tasks include keeping the entranceway and sidewalks clear of ice, the floors sparkling and the windows clear.

Salt: Pedestrian protector, floor complicator

Sidewalk ice is a slippery beast. ATW maintenance lead Ryan Geiger said his workers sweep away slush first to prevent ice formation at the entryway, then "salt as necessary." Salt, he points out, isn't eco-friendly.


"That's something I'm really trying to tone down," Geiger said about salting. "Everybody's got the mind frame to throw it out there, get it done."


Ryan Geiger, Outagamie County Airport Maintenance Lead

Ryan Geiger, Maintenance Lead at Outagamie County Regional Airport


When salt gets tracked inside, it scratches the floor the more people step on it. ATW's custodians fight salt by:

  • Laying twice as much indoor scraper matting as they would the rest of the year
  • Mopping or operating a floor scrubber several more times daily to prevent deposit buildup
  • Applying a neutral (pH 7) cleaner to any visible buildup. Neutral cleaners are safer on the custodian and the environment, and they're less likely to damage the surface cleaned.
  • Cleaning the rugs—vacuuming the grains out, performing hot water extraction and rotating which rugs are used where


"The cleaner we keep out front, the cleaner the building stays," Geiger said. "So we really try to keep right in front of the terminal really clean. It makes a big difference inside."

Sand: Where salt can't do it

The floor shines at Outagamie County Regional Airport

The floor shines at Outagamie County Regional Airport

ATW uses two different substances to deice outdoors: Salt by the visitor parking and sand by the airplanes. The reason? Salt corrodes aircraft. Spreading salt on the runway could cause expensive damage to the aircraft or worse, jeopardize the passengers' safety. So while airport visitors are tracking salt through the front door, airfield employees are tracking sand through the back door.


"It just wears the floor wax," Geiger said. "It just wears everything so fast if you don't sweep that sand up."


The scraper mats keep out some sand, but workers sweep often so nothing is crushed into the floor.

Washing in a winter wonderland

Businesses often put outdoor window-washing on the backburner during cold weather, but ATW keeps its glass sparkling. Aircraft deicing fluid accumulates on the concourse windows, and people don't want foggy windows ruining the view of the planes.


Every couple days the crew will squeegee the windows lightly so water doesn't freeze to the glass. The moistening isn't thorough and needs to be repeated every few days, as airplanes continue landing.


Geiger said his staff uses disposable wipes and cloth wipes on the windows. Right now his challenge is finding a window-cleaning method that is both effective and eco-friendly.


"I've been looking into alternatives because we use a lot of disposable wipes, and you always kind of cringe on that," Geiger said. "We're always looking for green and cost-effective ways."



The men behind the mops

As a staff of five with people on duty 19 hours per day, someone must step up every time a fresh overnight snowfall creates the need for plowing or shoveling.


"We are a very flexible crew," Geiger said. "We just basically run by the cell phones and radios and take it as it comes."

"You're going to get 50 bad complaints before you get one good one. But that one good one makes up for it."

– Ryan Geiger, Outagamie County Regional Airport Maintenance Lead


So as ATW's janitors keep the airport clean this winter, does their work get noticed by the visitors? Not typically, Geiger said, unless a mess gets reported. But the custodians understand, saying working in the background is the nature of maintenance.


"I think they're overlooked to a point," Geiger said. "Like I tell the guys, 'You're going to get 50 bad complaints before you get one good one. But that one good one makes up for it.'"


What is your biggest headache when traveling / flying in the winter months?