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Routine maintenance

All our runways get equal attention to keep them open and we work hard to minimize the impact of that maintenance on our operations and our neighbours.

Work on the airfield can be divided into four categories:

  • Electrical maintenance
  • Line painting
  • Runway surface maintenance
  • Grass cutting.

To complete this maintenance, our runways need to be temporarily closed for workers to safely move around on the airfield. Each type of work is equally important and to make sure it is completed quickly and on-time, we combine different types of work in the same day, making optimal use of a temporary runway closure.

Many types of routine maintenance have precision and safety standards that require them to be completed in the daytime to ensure adequate lighting for workers and the surrounding airfield. As a result, some of the planned routine maintenance cannot be completed at night.

For example, line painting on the airfield requires such precision that certain jobs can only be conducted during the day to ensure safety regulations are satisfied. Electrical work that requires large sections of runway lighting to be deactivated can also result in confusion among pilots flying at night who rely on runway lighting for guidance.

Electrical maintenance

A lit-up warning sign on a runway indicating ongoing electrical maintenance work.

Maintaining the electrical components of the airfield is a 24/7 job that starts with nightly inspections of the airfield.

Transport Canada maintains strict regulations for the quality of airfield lighting and the level to which it must function. Routine runway maintenance is the preventative work that helps to keep the airfield compliant with those regulations.

The airfield contains over 20,000 individual lights, powered by many kilometres of cabling that connects to Toronto Pearson’s power grid at five Field Electrical Centres. Routine electrical maintenance is what ensures that our airfield’s infrastructure continues to operate to the best of its ability and remains compliant with federal law.

Electrical maintenance can include:

  • Inspecting and repairing the lighting, powered instrumentation and the cables that provide power to each runway during scheduled runway maintenance.
  • Fixing burned out lights and the fixtures that hold them in place.
  • Repairing and replacing the cabling that provides power to the system. These cables carry thousands of volts of electricity and to work on one light a whole section of cable needs to be depowered, making it necessary to close sections of the runway for short periods of time.

Line Painting

Technicians painting lines on the runway at Toronto Pearson Airport.

Equally as important as the system of powered lights and instrumentation on the airfield, pilots rely on painted line guidance on the tarmac to help them take-off, land and taxi safely.

Lines provide visual guidance during the day-time and are as strictly monitored and maintained as nighttime lighting.

Runways are painted annually, with a focus on the centerline and touchdown area of the runway so that the aiming points and runway names are clearly visible to approaching pilots. Toronto Pearson’s apron area is painted twice a year, as well, keeping its guidance lines clear and visible to pilots.

Surface Maintenance

A view down the runway at Toronto Pearson Airport.

As Canada’s busiest airport, it’s no surprise that the surface of our runways can get some wear-and-tear.

To make sure that our runways are always safe for landing, routine maintenance is done to measure, monitor and maintain the physical surface of our runways.

This maintenance is done:

  • Every four hours the runways are inspected for physical blemishes, including cracks, potholes or other surface issues which could impact their usability. During routine maintenance these imperfections can be more closely inspected and repaired if needed.
  • Every two weeks we conduct friction testing, which measures how much traction aircraft tires can get when they come in to land on the touchdown areas of the runway (the first 3,000 feet of a runway). After each landing, the pores of the runway pavement become steadily more clogged with excess rubber that is left behind by landing aircraft. If enough builds up, the potential for an aircraft to slide on landing rises. This rubber is removed using high-pressure water-spray or powerful motorized brooms before the level of rubber can become dangerous.

Grass cutting

Freshly-cut grass at Toronto Pearson Airport, with a plane in the air in the background.

Cutting the grass at Toronto Pearson isn’t quite as simple as mowing your yard at home – and not just because we have more grass!

Grass cutting performs the following important functions:

  • Maintaining unobstructed views of the lighting, line paint and other navigational aids that are part of the runway. Grass over 14 inches tall needs to be removed so that pilots have unobstructed vision when coming in to land on one of Toronto Pearson’s five runways.
  • Preventing the growth and spread of weeds and other flowering plants that attract wildlife, reducing the risk of bird strikes and other animal contact with aircraft.

During grass cutting maintenance, other elements of turf management science are used to keep the grassy areas directly adjacent to our runways. Ruts, divots and potholes next to the runway are repaired and we work hard to keep the shoulders of the runways grassy and even, in the unlikely event that an aircraft leaves the runway on take-off or landing.