In March 2005, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol experienced unpredicted heavy snowfall. With icy runways and limited visibility, the airport was forced to ground flights, leaving passengers stranded. Later that year, it held a winter exercise to ensure that its response to a similar situation would be faster.

The main problem for Schiphol in March 2005 was the element of surprise. The Netherlands usually experiences mild winters. However, once in a while winter can strike heavily and unexpectedly. It is therefore vital to prepare a rapid response plan.

The parties involved collectively evaluated the effects of the snow, identifying the lack of de-icing capacity, sub-optimal snow removal at the stands and a loss of overview of the gates and aircraft as the major issues.


In summer 2005, under the authority of Schiphol Airport, Dutch air traffic control (LVNL), the national airline KLM and the national aerospace laboratory (NLR) started developing and organising a winter exercise called Snowflake. The aim was to create a simulation environment and realistic winter scenario to effectively practise winter operations.

The exercise took place in October 2005, serving to prepare airside operations teams from Schiphol, KLM and air traffic control for the possibility of heavy snowfall. The exercise was carried out by connecting the Narsim tower to a test version of the Central Information System Schiphol (CISS), creating a hub simulation facility.

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The background to the exercise was borrowed from the situation the airport faced in March 2000. The national Dutch meteorological institute (KNMI) traced the relevant weather data and radar images to provide the meteorological information.

The storyline specified that unexpected snowfall and degrading weather conditions would strike Schiphol, forcing the operation to retreat to the centre of the airport. The participants were told that the severity of the snowfall had put pressure on the de-icing process.

“At the end of December 2005, the teamwork within and between the operations and coordination teams was much improved.”

They were faced with a number of problems to deal with, such as refuelling the snow fleet, trumps running out of de-icing fluid, the aviobridge freezing fast and aircraft encountering technical problems after de-icing. They had to react to these situations in accordance with the new winter procedures.

The simulation environment was created by connecting the Narsim tower to a CISS test server, which is a web-based system that can run on any remote location. By installing the web front ends at the NLR premises, airport and exercise support staff were able to access flight information on the same systems they use in their day-to-day jobs.

To operate aircraft and vehicles, six pseudo-pilot positions and one dedicated vehicle driver position were created. A weather system provided weather data and the corresponding radar images. To enable communications, an extensive local telephone and R/T-network was set up.


Each organisation provided one or more observers, who gathered information on participant performance. During the plenary debriefing sessions, observer information was used as a basis for discussion among the participants.

After the exercise, Schiphol, KLM and LVNL collectively wrote a report reflecting on the specific operational objectives that were set. The lessons learned were integrated into the operational processes for the following winter.

Snowflake and other exercises re-emphasised the importance of fast, complete communication between all parties involved. When it started snowing at the end of December 2005 – after the Snowflake exercise – the teamwork within and between the operations and coordination teams was much improved. The airport remained open while train and car traffic ground to a halt.

The success of this project was achieved thanks to the extensive open communication and collaboration with all parties involved. Another crucial factor was the ability to connect Narsim and CISS, providing a realistic simulation environment.