Breaking the ice

posted on 22nd June 2018

Global de-icing regulations are becoming more stringent, and as such de-icing equipment manufacturers and software developers are under pressure to adopt evolving technologies to increase the efficiency of de-icing operations.

As the winter months approach, the frosty issue of managing airport operations in adverse weather becomes a talking point in airport boardrooms across the Northern Hemisphere.

Most delays in the air transport cycle occur at the airport, particularly due to the complexity of managing the large number of supporting flows in airport logistics. Worth considering is the optimal scheduling of de-icing vehicles, one of the key procedures in the turn-around of aircraft. Key to efficient operations is to minimise the delay of flights due to de-icing, and the travel distance of the de-icing vehicles.

New technological and procedural developments have taken place and could provide significant benefits to airport and airline stakeholders. “It looks like we were actually the catalyst to encourage de-icing vehicle manufacturers to bring technology into their fleets,” declares David Condliffe, a partner at Aviata Systems, which offers Ice Guard, some of the industry’s most advanced de-icing management systems on the market.

“With the exception of Vestergaard, which as a system of its own, but can only be used on their own vehicles, the rest of the manufacturing world was still not incorporating any automated de-icing process management systems at all,” he notes. “Global GSE, for example, are now starting to introduce their own product, basically in response to Ice Guard in the marketplace.”

According to Condliffe, Ice Guard optimises all aspects of the de-icing process. It works by tracking, controlling and reporting de-icing event details in real time. A real-time data collection system consisting of a touch-screen module is installed in each de-icing vehicle and collects information such as customer, aircraft type and tail number, start and stop times for each de-icing step, and fluid quantities applied.

“We find that most airlines or airports investing in technology will basically choose the vehicles that meet their needs, based upon the precise aircraft requirements. However, it is unusual to find an operator that has an exclusive set of de-icing trucks from one manufacturer,” he observes.

Vestergaard recently rolled out its new Elephant Sigma de-icer, especially introduced for servicing small to medium-size aircraft up to – and including – Boeing 757s and 767s. “Vestergaard has taken the strength and the durability from the big Vestergaard units and built them into more compact units with the same efficiency, just less costly and even more manoeuvrable,” explains Helle Vestergaard, marketing and communications manager at the company.

In addition to the manufacture of de-icing machines, the Danish firm has developed Vestergaard Data Transmission System (DTS) software to enable more efficient de-icing operations. “With the Vestergaard DTS, it is possible to record, document and process information on performed de-icing/anti-icing operations. The DTS may assist in this in basically any required form or format to meet customers’ specific demands,” Vestergaard says.

In its most basic form, fluid selection and consumption are recorded and can be documented on a print-out (by truck-mounted printer). The de-icing truck may also be linked with a central computer by cell phone using GPRS technology.

“The operator’s panel is located in either the spray cabin or the chassis cabin of the truck. It consists of a touch-screen interface, enabling the operator to record a number of data in addition to the de-icing data, such as aircraft registration number, flight number, and so on. After completion, this data is stored in the safe Vestergaard company-hosted web server.”

Vestergaard adds that the DTS system can be expanded with modules enabling the de-icing co-ordinator to use the system for unit allocation purposes, and/or to feed the system with information from the airport dispatch system.

Swissport Zurich was one of the first users of this technology by integrating pre-departure sequencing and Vestergaard’s DTS systems with INFORM’s Ground Star (GS) real-time allocation system for the de-icing process at Zurich International airport.

Current capacity data is sent from GS RealTime to the pre-departure sequencer (for exact sequencing, the system needs the information about available de-icing pads and lanes derived from GS RealTime), which then informs GS RealTime about the exact time an aircraft is due for de-icing. Based on this information and the availability of employees, tasks and number of vehicles, GS RealTime optimises the de-icing resources.

During the de-icing process GS RealTime is automatically updated on the status by Vestergaard’s DTS server via an interface. Vestergaard uses Web-DTS server and data radio to collect data such as that relating to the beginning and end of operation, logging of time stamps and volume of each individual spray sequence in the operation, as well as fluid tank levels, fluid temperatures, and so on.

With this data, GS RealTime can give a clear picture of the current situation and thus permits proactive resource allocation and capacity forecast calculation. Finally, to close the loop, capacity information is automatically transmitted to the airport. In addition, GS RealTime transmits relevant commercial information to the billing system for invoicing purposes, such as de-icing events and amount of liquid used.

Aviata Systems has supplied Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) and Denver International with the Ice Guard de-icing management system. The CLT installation included the Ice Guard vehicle module for 28 de-icing trucks, the pad control management system to be installed in the US Airways ramp tower, and the central management module which will enable real-time operational management and monitoring of the de-icing/anti-icing process.

“The difference with our product is that it fits into all the different trucks – Vestergaard’s, Global’s, Premier’s and FMC’s, you name it,” says Condliffe. “It is designed to be compatible with the different manufacturers. We reacted by enabling the airport authorities to choose a solution that was best for them and not necessarily for the de-icing truck manufacturers.”

Condliffe explains that when the Ice Guard technology was initially launched, it was broken down into a number of components: an operations dashboard system that gives real-time feedback and a module that goes in the truck itself with a pad control software that links in with the aircraft’s movement.

“What we found was it took us quite a while to actually bring a new customer on board because we ended up having to go to their location and install the software on their machines; this it was a prolonged process,” admits Condliffe.

Management at Aviata soon realised that a better way of implementing the technology was necessary. “Since our company is made up of software developers and the aircraft industry, we decided last year to convert the Ice Guard systems to be SaaS-based.” SaaS (Software as a Service) is a software distribution model in which applications are hosted by a vendor or service provider and made available to customers over a network, typically the Internet.

SaaS is becoming an increasingly prevalent delivery model as underlying technologies that support web services and service-oriented architecture mature. “So now we don’t have to go to the customer to bring them on board. We can basically set them up online and as long as they have an Internet connection, they can be up and running. They can start recording data, importing data, linking their trucks online and all that within an hour of becoming a customer,” Condliffe points out.

Congestion

Highly congested airports such as London Heathrow have more than one de-icing area depending on the aircraft type and airline, with multiple runways and multiple de-icing points around the airport. Condliffe cites that as the first part of the problem and typically what happens at 99.9 percent of all airports is that de-icing pads are fixed entities. “So if you go to de-icing pad A, pad B and de-icing pad C, what happens is that A will be designated for all airlines but possibly for specific aircraft types, say CRJ and ERJ 145, pad B for 767/A330s and pad C for A380 and 747s.

“If you have 10 CRJs ready to go in a 10 to 15 minute period and they are all going to pad A, then you might have four to five de-icing vehicles there that can only do two or three aircraft at a time. If at the same time you have nothing happening at the widebodied pad then you have de-icing trucks sitting there idle doing nothing because you can only put widebodies there.”

He adds that the de-icing pads today are managed as separate entities and they only send the resources to those pads on a fixed mechanism because there is currently no system for understanding what is actually happening across all pads at any given time.

Based on the above scenario, Aviata Systems is developing new software using artificial intelligence that will get aircraft through the de-icing process quicker and more efficiently than systems currently available.

“If you have our de-icing software in place on the vehicles and on the pads, it gives real-time information back into our artificial intelligence system about the current state of the pad, throughput of the aircraft, current loads, and so on – i.e. how many aircraft are being de-iced at any one time, how many aircraft are waiting to be de-iced, the average time each type of aircraft takes to get through the process and other similar conditions,” Condliffe remarks.

He notes that the technology also calculates how much fuel the aircraft could burn if it went to pad A, pad B or pad C, and what would be the quickest way to get the aircraft off the ground by choosing the pad by the fastest method and not by aircraft type. “So, we basically treat all pads as one resource and we direct aircraft from the gate down the path to the pad that’s going to be quickest by what the system is telling us.”

Condliffe also says that using historical data the system can determine the average de-icing time for a specific aircraft under different weather conditions. “Using all this data, it can then tell the operator that if you, for example, release that aircraft in 10 minutes rather than now and send it through pad B rather than pad A, you will actually send off the aircraft faster and burn less fuel in the process,” he adds.

Industry observers believe de-icing software will increasingly become incorporated into newly designed de-icing units either as standard or part of an add-on service. Mallaghan officially launched its new de-icers in 2010; it has two main sizes of units available – 8200L capacity and 4500L capacity – with various options such as forced air.

Environmental impact

The environmental aspect of de-icing procedures continues to be debated and regulations are being constantly changed to meet ever more stringent requirements. For example, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced new guidelines in June 2012. The new EPA regulations will affect de-icing operations for both aircraft and airfield pavements. The effluent guidelines, while intended to reduce pollutants discharged to surface waters and publicly owned treatment works, do not set receiving water quality standards.

The new ruling does, however, make an important change regarding airfield pavement de-icing. EPA pointed out: “Existing and new primary airports with 1,000 or more annual jet departures (non-propeller aircraft) that generate wastewater associated with airfield pavement de-icing are to use non-urea-containing de-icers, or alternatively, meet a numeric effluent limitation for ammonia.” Ammonia is the principle pollutant generated by urea-based pavement de-icers.

Kilfrost, the industry expert in de/anti-icing solutions, has reported a surge in demand for its environmentally-driven Sustain products in New Zealand. Air New Zealand and distribution supply chain specialist Aviall have purchased 27 tonnes of Sustain products over the past 12 months.

Gary Lydiate, Kilfrost CEO, comments: “All our sustainable products offer significant environmental benefits in terms of carbon savings and low toxicity, yet with no compromise in terms of performance and functionality. We are delighted that the New Zealand aviation marketplace has recognised the benefits that our Sustain products can deliver from a performance as well as an environmental point of view.”

Numerous other companies around the world are engaged in manufacturing de-icing Sweden-headquartered Safeaero produces one-person-operated aircraft de-icers equipped with the latest in design and state-of-the-art technology. Its latest offering, the Safeaero 223XXL, has a maximum nozzle height of 23m, a tank capacity of 13,000 litres and a maximum operator’s eye height of 17m. The all-new boom system, with its horizontal reach of 14m, enables operators to de-ice the A380 wing at the wing root from the front. The Safeaero 223XXL has a new, purpose-built chassis.

Its hydraulic suspension for the front and rear axles maximises driving comfort at high speeds and ensures stability during the de-icing operation. The company also says its latest de-icer offers an all-new ‘hot and blend at nozzle mixing system’ for type I and Type II/IV fluids. This ensures maximum efficiency with minimum use of glycol, which makes it a very environmentally friendly system, Safeaero claims.

US-based Global Ground Support is a leading manufacturer of military, airline and airport ground support equipment. Its de-icing systems are recognised around the world for their proven performance in the harshest weather conditions. Global manufactures a wide range of de-icers to service every type of aircraft, using conventional heated Type I fluids. For anti-icing, a second isolated tank is supplied (on most models) with a positive displacement pump to spray undiluted Type IV fluids with minimal fluid degradation. Global’s de-icers incorporate its forced air system, AirPlus!® and the company also provides single-operator de-icers.