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Farmers keep airport runways clear of ice and snow

© Brussels Airport

There may be fewer flights than normal arriving and departing at Brussels Airport these days, but that doesn’t mean the runways and taxiways don’t need to be cleared of ice and snow.

And when it comes to clearing the way for planes to take off and land, it’s time to call in a little-known band of workers – the farmers of the areas around the airport.

Winter is a quiet time on the arable fields of Belgium’s farms. Nothing is growing, and the soil may be too hard to even work with. So more than ten years ago a group now known as Werkers (Workers) sprang up inside the farmers’ union Boerenbond. Now, a team of 114 farmers forms the airport squad, helping to keep the airport open.

They’re made up of three teams of 38, who are on call by turns to come out if needed. But a full team will only be called out if it is actively snowing. At other times, for dealing with frost or hail, smaller teams are sufficient.

I was working at the Zellik auction and it was quiet there during the winter months,” Joris De Masseneer, who farms at Mollem just north of Brussels, explained to Hectares magazine.

Then I was accepted to take part in the winter operation at Brussels Airport. An extra income that was more than welcome as a starting farmer. Now I am on my ninth winter working there,” he said.

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The system not only means the airport can stay open as long as possible, it also provides some extra income for the farmers involved, who are paid a fee even if only on stand-by.

The equipment used to keep the runways clear is provided by the airport; these machines are specialised equipment unlike anything the farmers themselves have.

Since its creation, Werkers now also takes on contracts for other works, such as clearing brush at the edge of forests.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times