When Calvin McNeely began Upstate Sweeping Service in 1979, he could only have dreamed it would become the colossal airport services company that his once-fledgling firm now represents. Initially, the company mandate was to provide parking lot sweeping services. However, it was only a year later when McNeely added striping and seal coating services.
The next watershed came in 1986, when the firm captured its first airport striping job, at Fort Drum Airport in upstate New York. The company did a good job and the next year was rewarded with a striping job for Oswego County Airport, as well as a half-million dollar contract from Morrison Knutson to stripe roads and parking lots at the new Fort Drum.
It was at this point that the company management team formed Hi-Lite Striping, with Hi-Lite Markings, Inc. formed the next year. From there, the company’s growth has been meteoric. For example, in 1999 Hi-Lite Striping was awarded a multimillion dollar contract to stripe all of the Walmart parking lots in the Northeast sector of the US. Despite the Walmart contract, the company management team realized that its competitive advantage lay in the field of airport upkeep and maintenance. In 2000, Hi-Lite started to focus on primarily providing services to airports.
In 2006, Hi-Lite Airfield Services, LLC entered the Canadian market via opening an office in Ontario. Three years later it began providing contracting services in Central America, South America and the Caribbean. Expansion to the Middle East marketplace began in 2010.
Today Hi-Lite offers a complete line of airfield maintenance services. Their clients span the globe. Hi-Lite has on-site business units in the U.S., Canada, Latin America, Middle East, and the Caribbean. Whether they send a crew across town or across the world, Hi-Lite’s main objective is to enhance airfield safety, and minimize runway incursions and excursions, making it safer to fly for every man, woman and child that boards a plane.
An important aspect of Hi-Lite’s service package continues to center around sweeping, especially as sweepers are utilized to keep Foreign Object Debris (FOD) off of runways. FOD accumulation can be one of the most important aspects of any modern day airport safety program. Airports focus on eliminating FOD, and some even involve their rank-and-file employees by educating them about the importance of having debris-free runways. San Francisco International Airport, for example, held its 15th annual employee Runway FOD Walk this past October. The Runway FOD Walk allows airport workers to participate and be involved in preventing items from becoming FOD.
“Sweepers are a main component of the services we offer to airports to ensure safety and compliance,” said Erick Yepez, business development specialist for Hi-Lite Airfield Services, Inc. Just one example is the multiyear Airfield Maintenance Contract we have with Luis Muños Marín International Airport (SJU) in Puerto Rico, an airport under FAA jurisdiction. We will be stationing a sweeper there for the next five years. One of the primary functions of this sweeper is to serve in the implementation of a FOD control program at SJU airport.
“At SJU we will sweep the airfield constantly throughout the week as much as possible to eliminate FOD. Foreign Object Debris is a main concern for airports around the world. The FAA cites that FOD creates safety hazards and can ultimately impact safe operations by damaging aircraft.
“An example is a screw that can be pulled in by one of the aircraft motors. Something of that nature can damage the motors and risk the lives of passengers. Sweeping, along with visual inspections, is one of the ways to get rid of FOD. The FAA is really serious when it comes to FOD and tries to raise awareness as much as possible. Some of our sweepers are outfitted with front bumper-mounted magnetic bars designed to attract and remove metallic FOD items.”
Hi-Lite Airfield Services was also hired to manage the friction on SJU’s runways. Per a five-year agreement, Hi-Lite performs weekly friction tests and visual inspections; rubber removal is executed as needed. Hi-Lite is also responsible for pilot visibility, including all airfield markings.
“We do monthly and quarterly inspections, and we’re continuously out there cleaning, painting, and doing whatever else needs to be done to keep markings fully compliant and are prepared to pass an inspection at any time,” says Calvin McNeely, Hi-Lite’s executive vice president. “We’re being proactive instead of reactive.”
Says Ismael Bonilla, COO of Aerostar Airport Holdings, the company in charge of the day-to-day operation at SJU, “Those guys [Hi-Lite’s team] are boots on the ground. They have people stationed here dealing with maintaining the runways, cleaning them, cleaning taxiways, repainting everything.”
“Another way the sweeper is used as part of SJU’s Airfield Maintenance Contract is for mildew removal,” said Yepez. “Mildew is a high concern to an airfield as its very slippery under rain and can cover important markings designed to guide pilots across an airfield. This can hinder pilot situational awareness.
“The way we remove mildew is by applying a chemical, AEROGREEN 4025, with pressure washers and then vacuuming the water and cleaning the surface with a sweeper. Removing mildew provides airports with safer operations, as well as a more aesthetic, pleasing appearance to passengers visiting their facilities. Hi-Lite’s sister company, Hi-Lite Solutions, manufactures the specialty cleaners that the company uses with its sweepers for mildew removal.”
Hi-Lite also provides another of the most critical services for any airport, which is runway rubber removal. It is estimated that each landing aircraft will leave around a pound of tire rubber on the surface. When this rubber is not cleaned it adheres to the surface, damages the substrate, and causes runway excursions leading airplanes to crash with one another or sliding off the runway.
Rubber accumulation is a serious concern and airports remove it by the number of frequency of landing aircraft. An airport like Atlanta, Yepez told us, as the busiest in the world, chemically removes rubber according to their friction test results, which are performed every other week. A smaller airport might remove accumulated rubber from the runways every three years. Rubber should be removed frequently to protect the most important asset of any airport, that is the runway.
“One of the ways we remove runway rubber,” said Yepez, “is by high pressure water-blasting and then we vacuum and/or scrub the water using a sweeper. Alternatively, we remove rubber via chemical removal only using AEROGREEN. This process requires sweeping as the last step to clear the runway from the soapy remains of the rubber and chemical. Unlike other chemicals in the market for rubber removal, AEROGREEN is an eco-friendly chemical safe for people and also won’t damage our sweepers.
“Another way we use sweepers is as one of the means for proper surface preparation before installing airfield markings. Sweeping and blowing the area before painting is a best practice and ensures a better bond between the surface and the paint, leading to longevity of the markings.”
We have linked below an informational video that touts the usability of AEROGREEN’s 435 for rubber removal.
A sometimes demanding aspect of the sweeping and other services Hi-Lite provides to its airport customers is that it must perform all services according to whatever hours are dictated by airport operations. For example, if an airport has two runways, they will close one down for about a week so that Hi-Lite can perform whatever services are needed. Or, if that’s not feasible because an airport is very busy, airport management might give a particular time slot in which, for example from 11pm – 5am. Other times the Hi-Lite team has to work with two-hour closures in the daytime. Scheduling totally depends on the airport and the schedules they have for landing aircraft. These schedules are usually determined by airport operations personnel.
“When a sweeper enters an airfield it is expected to have rotating lights above the cab and drivers are supposed to be badged with that airport in order to be allowed to drive in the airfield,” said Yepez. “The sweeper must also have our company logo so that it can be identified by airport operations and security. Each airport has specific training our drivers must take, and rules that must be followed, in order for them to drive in that airport.
“For example, they are have to obey specify speed limits and contact air traffic control when they are about to cross a major intersection. Other airports require sweepers or any other vehicle to be escorted at all times with a representative from airport operations. They will, in turn, talk to the tower to determine where to go and make sure there is no disruption of aircraft traffic. Generally airports also require insurance to third parties.”
With its expansions to Canada, Central and Latin America, and the Middle East, Hi-Lite Airfield Services, LLC is poised to become a world leader in complete maintenance of exterior airport facilities. Quite an advance from its more humble beginnings as a parking area sweeping services.
You may reach Erick Yepez, Hi-Lite’s Business Development Specialist and our primary contact for this article, by calling 315-583-6111 Ext 230. You may also reach him via email sent to email@example.com. The company’s website is www.hi-lite.com. Hi-Lite’s corporate office is located in Adams Center, NY.