JCAI, Inc is a Canada-based specialist in digital infrastructure and systems intended for supporting airport de-icing facilities and processes. Its SmartPad and Icelink solutions combine the company’s advanced visual communication systems with digital technology to offer a high level of visibility of the activities undertaken by those involved in an airport de-icing event
Jeff Campbell is the owner and president of JCAI, Inc (JCAII), which was first established by signage specialists about 15 years ago. He explains that the Cambridge, Ontario-based company’s visual communication systems are intended to make an airport de-icing process not dissimilar to what might be experienced at an automatic car wash.
Sophisticated electronic message boards (EMBs, which can be fixed or mobile in design) and other signage offer pilots all the information they need, while state-of-the art lighting systems (some proprietary to JCAII, some not) guide the way.
Digital messages provide guidance to pilots as they enter a de-icing area or pad, while control lighting automatically guides the crew to the correct position and simultaneously warns of any ‘no-go’ areas. This all facilitates precise aircraft positioning and removes the need for human marshalling.
JCAII’s first foray into the airport market was at Toronto Pearson Airport and involved the deployment of its EMBs. Since then, it has significantly developed its range of EMBs and signs, but also moved into digital platforms that monitor and guide the whole de-icing process.
Its software solutions also offer a means to capture and allow subsequent analysis of the data recorded during that process – thereby providing a tool that can maximise future safety of aircraft de-icing at an airport.
Icelink and SmartPad
JCAII’s Icelink web-based software links a de-icing operator’s assets and airport operator, and potentially flight deck as well, to facilitate safe and efficient de-icing processes. The purpose-built system “provides the speed and agility required to manage airport [de-icing] operations safely and efficiently”, JCAII says.
As a web-based de-icing management system, Icelink Deicer and Truck modules enable de-icer ground service providers to link their ramp assets throughout the de-icing process in such a way as to optimise their performance. The system offers real-time status updates and electronic synchronisation of the trucks’ work, accessed via web-connected devices like iPads or smartphones.
Icelink also offers a detailed reporting capability that enables on-the-ground users and managers to assess ongoing performance and see where the job might be done better. It collects data relating to a de-icing event that is not only available for future assessment, but can also be used by management to make changes ‘on the fly’ during a de-icing process.
The Icelink de-icing ground co-ordination system can be extended to an aircraft flight deck through the Icelink PILOT application, which can be made available via pilots’ flight bags.
Calgary Airport in Canada is amongst those customers that have a suite of JCAII services, and it is currently trialling the new Icelink PILOT application.
Meanwhile, JCAII’s SmartPad software is intended for those operating specialist aircraft de-icing pads. Complementing the EMBs and signage offered by JCAII, SmartPad offers an overview to the pad operator of what is occurring, and where, on a real-time basis. In essence, it offers a digitised operations centre for gate, stand and pad de-icing.
SmartPad can be integrated with customers’ own systems, including tower control systems.
The software is in use at Memphis International Airport, home hub to FedEx and its huge fleet of freighters, and thus one of the biggest air cargo gateways in the world.
Meanwhile, both Icelink and SmartPad are in use at Chicago O’Hare International Airport in Illinois in the US. And in December, United Airlines inked a deal with JCAII that will see the carrier take up the cloud-based Icelink system for all its stations across the Continental US.
Icelink is to be integrated into United’s business intelligence systems to provide real-time control and analysis capability. The carrier will have a system-wide view of all relevant de-icing operations, and builds on the successful O’Hare installation of Icelink and SmartPad, where United is among the carriers to benefit.
Other airports, including London Heathrow in the UK, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol in the Netherlands and Toronto Pearson in Canada also use JCAII systems to a greater or lesser extent.
Thus, for example, JCAII was contracted to provide both Icelink and SmartPad, including its latest generation of EMBs, for Schiphol in 2022. According to JCAII, “This investment by the airport is an evolution of the co-operation between Schiphol Airport and JCAII since 2011. Icelink and Icelink SmartPad represent a software and hardware upgrade after over a decade of success with JCAII’s previous product generation.”
And at Toronto, the Greater Toronto Airport Authority (GTAA) has awarded JCAII a contract to provide its latest EMBs at one of the world’s largest centralised de-icing facilities. These EMBs can be fully integrated into Icelink and SmartPad as necessary.
As well as the airlines and airport operators, JCAII also targets the de-icers. Integrated Deicing Services (IDS), for example, active right across the US and into Canada, is a big customer.
JCAII’s de-icing management and reporting software products offer powerful capabilities that gateways and de-icing service providers looking at digitalisation as a way to achieve greater efficiency certainly ought to consider, Campbell believes.
Of course, the de-icing process is, by its very nature, seasonal, and so not always at the forefront of people’s minds. But the development of Icelink and SmartPad offers airport authorities and de-icing operators the data to assess their own efficiencies and to see how their processes might be improved.
JCAII itself has modelled how much greater efficiency can be achieved through the use of its platforms. Having data to hand on throughput times, volumes of glycol used and full asset geolocation and status makes it much easier to see how much time might be saved during a de-icing process (itself of huge financial value in these days of such constricted airline operating schedules) and how much de-icing/anti-icing fluid saving could be saved in better managed and co-ordinated de-icing procedures.
Perhaps as a result, JCAII is growing quickly. From a workforce of around 10 people about 18 months ago, it now has a staff complement of about 35, many previously self-employed contractors who have been attracted to move in-house as well as new employees taken on from outside the business, many of them to work in research and development for the company.