Effective aircraft de-icing is just one of the range of procedures that must be carried out as part of an airport’s winter operations set-up. It’s a major effort at many gateways, but one that must be made at any airport that can suffer even fairly moderate winter weather if aircraft are to keep flying safely and to schedule
For the carriers using those airports that can be affected by harsh winter weather, it’s all about getting their aircraft away on schedule as far as is possible and thus avoiding costly cancellations or delays – with all the attendant passenger disgruntlement (and demands for their money back), not to mention aircraft and crews improperly positioned as the result of a disrupted schedule.
For one airline – one of the world’s biggest low-cost carriers (LCCs) – the choice between de-icing on-stand and on a remote pad is an easy one. Ernie Carter, winter operations manager for London Luton-headquartered easyJet, says that it is really a “no-brainer” when it comes to that particular choice. Remote de-icing pads can be the difference between airports closing or remaining open to flying in challenging icing conditions, he says.
Carter, who is responsible for the airline’s winter operations at a total of 94 gateways, has plenty of experience on which to base his judgement. easyJet has played a major role in working with various airports, particularly in the UK (at London Stansted, Liverpool and Edinburgh as well as at Luton), but also elsewhere in Europe, such as at Budapest and Krakow, on the construction and testing of de-icing pads. And that trend is pronounced: six years ago, just five of the European airports to which easyJet flew had remote de-icing pads; now 22 of its European stations have them. Belgrade, Sofia and Pristina were added to the list of airports employing de-icing pads over the last winter season.
Looking back, Carter recalls the events that led to a change in policy at easyJet. In 2011, following a particularly harsh winter in the UK, the carrier decided to improve its winter operational performance. With this objective in mind, a winter operations manager – Carter – was employed by easyJet to focus on operational performance.
The winter operations manager was given a key objective, and that was to move the UK’s de-icing industry into the 21st Century.
Three related initiatives were put in place, which were as follows:
• To spray all aircraft in one place (ie, at remote de-icing pads)
• To safely spray less aircraft de-icing fluid (ADF)
• To reclaim and recycle spent ADF
With respect to that first initiative, one airport authority with which easyJet worked particularly closely on the creation of a remote de-icing operation was London Gatwick. The airport authority at the gateway worked with its stakeholders on the development of a double-pad, looking to learn the lessons of a couple of snowy winters in the UK, particularly that of 2010-11. easyJet played an important role in pad de-icing trials at the airport, first involving aircraft with their engines shut down and then with their engines running.
The effort was well worth it, Carter believes. While aircraft de-icing is still carried out on-stand as well as on the remote pads to maximise departure flows, the new set-up represents significant progress and clearly doesn’t just benefit easyJet. “It is for the benefit of the whole airport community,” he says. Since the remote double-pad has gone into operation, there have been a few delays caused by bad weather, but absolutely no cancellations to easyJet flights through the airport, Carter reports.
He is more than happy to share the LCC’s Gatwick experience with other airport authorities, encouraging them to go down the same road of remote de-icing. In fact, as well as airport authorities, he has also shown air traffic control (ATC) authorities and de-icing service providers the pad de-icing infrastructure and systems at Gatwick.
The procedures associated with pads must be easy to stand up and stand down as the weather dictates, Carter explains, and they mustn’t be overly expensive to set up. Preferably, they will be of the ‘drive-through’ variety, speeding up the de-icing process and – it goes without saying – they must ensure 100% safety; speed is important, but the safety of the aircraft remains the paramount consideration.
With regard to the efforts to use less de-icing fluid, US-headquartered IDS – which specialises in forced air de-icing – introduced the technology at both Luton and Geneva airports. “This new technology significantly improved the de-icing process, using far less fluid,” Carter notes. Since its introduction four years ago, other major de-icing suppliers have now also introduced forced air technology. Airline Services at Gatwick purchased six forced air rigs for the introduction of the remote de-icing pads, he informs.
As for the final objective, ‘to reclaim and recycle spent aircraft de-icing fluid’, a marked development has concerned the UK Glycol Recovery Group. The Group has now been in operation for more than two years and meets to discuss possible options relating to fluid reclamation and recycling.
Industry leaders are invited to the group meetings, where new technologies are discussed and evaluated. This project is still a “work in progress”, Carter says, but “hopefully in the not-too-distant future a low-cost, efficient process will be developed and introduced at one of the major airports. The technology is already there – it just needs to be pulled together.”
Carter concludes positively: “The de-icing industry has started to move into the 21st Century and the future looks brighter, with the introduction of new technologies linked to more efficient and effective safer processes.”
Putting everything in place
As the industry gears up for the Christmas period, the pressure is on for all involved in on-airport de-icing. Airports have to ensure they have the right equipment in place, and that is where de-icing vehicle manufacturers come into their own. Thus, they too are under a bit of pressure this time of year. Indeed, “This is always one of the busiest periods at Vestergaard,” confirms the company’s sales manager Lars Barsoe. “We will deliver a large number of trucks prior to the coming season, so production is at full speed and then some.”
Improvements are being made to Vestergaard’s various offerings. For example, “We are continuing the development of our semi-automatic features on the Elephant BETA de-icer,” Barsoe notes. “Our Precise Positioning System (PPS) can now handle three dimensions and follow both wing edges and fuselage.” PPS is a tool that makes use of proximity sensors at the end of a telescope to ensure the correct, optimal distance between nozzle and aircraft during de-icing.
“Plus, our In-Truck Manufacturing is gaining traction, as are our birds-eye 360 degree cameras,” he adds. Vestergaard’s In-Truck Manufacturing (ITM) technology allows for the manufacturing of Type I de-icing fluid on-board the de-icing truck.
Some of the improvements introduced by Vestergaard have been inspired by the desire to minimise the environmental impact of aircraft de-icing. “The push to save glycol and the environment is still at the forefront,” Barsoe says. “Our In-Truck Manufacturing, which has the potential to save customers 20-30% in glycol expenses, is continuing to develop and gain foothold. PPS is popular with customers where there are less frequent snow and ice events; it helps to keep the spray-nozzle close to the aircraft surfaces and thus to save fluid and time.”
Other trends in aircraft de-icing he would point to include – as we have seen with easyJet – a greater propensity amongst industry players for more remote de-icing, as well as one-man de-icing vehicle operations that are taking a larger market share.
Minimising cost and improving efficiency, plus environmental considerations, are all issues to be considered by those involved in aircraft de-icing. “In many ways the three are linked,” says Barsoe. “Cost is a main driver in this low-margin industry, but airline customers demand efficiency and on-time performance, so speed is very crucial.
“Meanwhile, airport authorities and local councils are demanding that the environment is taken seriously, so there is a lot of reporting to be done, and often bills to be paid. So, all in all, the three go hand-in-hand. If you can save glycol and time, you can handle more aircraft with less equipment, you can save on the litres of glycol and fuel spent to heat it up, and environmentalist considerations will be satisfied.”
Vestergaard plans to introduce a new version of one of its de-icers at inter airport in Munich in October.” It could revolutionise the market in some countries,” Barsoe declares.
Another of the major manufacturers of aircraft de-icing units is busy now, and has been all year. Sweden’s Safeaero has successfully been integrated within Textron Specialized Vehicles (Textron Inc acquired, through its Swedish affiliate, Textron Sweden AB, the assets of Safeaero in October 2016).
Also of note over these past 12 months, recalls Textron Sweden sales manager Michal Hak, was a successful joint exhibition in Las Vegas last year, where the Safeaero 220 was on show for all to see. “Since than, we have generated a lot of additional interest for the Safeaero 220 in the North American market,” Hak informs.
“Because we are now part of Textron GSE, doors are opening all over.” Hak is in fact now promoting Safeaero products from the Textron Sweden AB plant right across the Far East, Russia, Europe and North America.
Like Vestergaard, Textron too is looking forward to inter airport later this year and displaying its latest offerings. “We will introduce at the Munich show a new preventive de/anti-icing system which provides hot (40°C) anti-icing fluid instantly at the nozzle,” Hak forecasts. “No need to flush piping anymore before hot anti-ice fluid reaches the nozzle. This saves fluid and time and is better for the environment. This system can be also retrofitted on older units.”
In other developments: “We have introduced the new hot@nozzle and mix@nozzle for the Typhoon de-icer. This system allows for instant hot fluid and correct mix at nozzle without the need of flushing the piping system. Also, this system saves fluid and time and is better for the environment.”
And, on the sales front, the company recently delivered an additional two Safeaero washer/maintenance platforms to Oman Air. This unit features a basket working height of 22.5m and basket capacity of 350kg.