Chicago O’Hare opens new de-icing operation

posted on 15th May 2019
Chicago O’Hare opens new de-icing operation

In February, a new Centralized Deicing Facility (CDF) went into operation at Chicago O’Hare International Airport. The gateway’s first dedicated de-icing facility de-ices aircraft away from their stands, thereby enhancing safety and speeding the process of de-icing aircraft prior to their departures

The new facility is located on the western side of the airport. It is the largest such de-icing facility in the US, and the second-largest in the world, insists Chicago O’Hare Airport’s operator, the Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA).

“The new Centralized Deicing Facility is one of O’Hare’s newest and most important assets, as it promises to greatly enhance operating conditions for all of our airline partners,” observes CDA commissioner Jamie Rhee.

“Coupled with our award-winning snow operations, and the ongoing investments to modernise our airfield, this new facility builds upon our commitment to improving safety and efficiency at one of the world’s busiest and best-connected airports,” Rhee adds.

More than 50 airlines flying through O’Hare are expected to make use of the new facility to be de-iced as close as possible to the runway prior to departure.

“As Chicago’s hometown airline and the first carrier at O’Hare to use the new, Centralized Deicing Facility on a limited basis, we work together with the Chicago Department of Aviation and all of our partners to provide a safe, caring and dependable operation for our customers, regardless of the weather conditions,” informs Mike Hanna, United Airlines vice president at O’Hare.

“We know first-hand that the new de-icing facility will further enable us to better serve our customers, particularly when winter weather strikes here in the Midwest.”

Franco Tedeschi, American Airlines vice president – Chicago, adds: “We are elated that the Centralized Deicing Facility, which American first proposed more than five years ago, has come to fruition bringing major benefits for our customers and the airport as a whole.

“Our de-icing team is the best in the business and takes great pride in ensuring we get customers on their way safely and quickly during Chicago’s challenging winter weather. The new de-icing facility will allow us to do just that.”

A big undertaking

The 835,000 square foot area taken up by the Centralized Deicing Facility incorporates a de-icing pad that can accommodate up to 20 narrowbody aircraft or up to five widebody aircraft at any one time. Plus, a four-story ramp tower enables airline personnel to oversee and control their individual de-icing operations.

The CDF is accessed by a new common-use taxiway system, Taxiway Z, connecting aircraft from the north to the south airfield at O’Hare. Once the aircraft is in the de-icing space, it will be serviced in areas dedicated to their specific airline operator. Airlines will have access to equipment, de-icing fluid storage and other ancillary de-icing functions. De-icing fluid run-off is collected for recycling.

First conceptualised back in 2013, the US$168 million facility took 20 months to construct, and was completed on 27 December last year.

The project required the laying of approximately 3.5 million square feet of concrete. In fact, the CDF and the new taxiway system serving it required about twice the amount of concrete used to construct O’Hare’s runways.

The CDF forms part of an even bigger strategy to expand and develop the gateway, a project known as the O’Hare Modernization Program (OMP). The OMP has already seen the development of new runways and a more than 50% increase to capacity since it was launched in 2001.

The OMP is currently in the process on delivering the last two runway improvements of the programme. Runway 9C-27C is under construction and will open in late 2020; the extension of Runway 9R-27L will open in 2021, completing CDA’s ambitious plan to provide six east-west parallel runways.

And there will be more to come after that. O’Hare is currently preparing for its biggest terminal expansion yet, which will see the construction of more gates and new passenger amenities.

Inclement weather

Chicago experiences some pretty inclement weather, and the CDF will not be short of customers. While a CDA spokesperson notes that every winter in Chicago is different, so far this season – ie, the 2018-19 winter – the city has already had 41.5 inches of snow; the average is 37 inches. It has experienced 62 days of accumulating snow or ice.

“The use of similar deicing facilities at other hub airports around the world subject to winter weather conditions has been proven to be an effective, efficient and cost-effective way to manage deicing operations,” CDA points out. “The facility will not only provide significant improvements during the winter months, but also will provide operational relief to operations during inclement weather conditions year round, when aircraft may be subject to ground holds.”

“The facility can be used in non-snow/ice circumstances, including as a hard stand for summer thunderstorms or emergency diversions,” the CDA spokesperson outlines.

As with most of the airport projects at O’Hare, this project was funded through the issuance of General Airport Revenue Bonds (GARBs). These City-issued bonds are secured against and backed by airline revenues, the spokesperson explains. But it is money well spent, the CDA insists.

“The efficiencies of this facility are manifested by gate availability. The airlines rely heavily on their ability to turn gates quickly and this time is greatly increased by de-icing operations, where the gate continues to be occupied during these operations.

“Furthermore, and should the aircraft en-route for departure miss their holdover times, it may have to be cleaned up again, thus occupying terminal gate space a second time.  All this can significantly increase the time when the gate is occupied.”

Last year, O’Hare saw more than 903,000 flight operations. It handled more than 83 million passengers over the 12-month period.