Efficient de-icing operations are vital to keeping aircraft flying with as few delays as possible during severe winter weather events – and for some airports, during the entire winter season. But there are other concerns besides efficiency that are must be borne in mind, as Megan Ramsay explains.
One consideration that has been becoming more and more important over a number of years – and continues to grow in significance as regulations tighten up around the world – is environmental performance.
At Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport in Alaska, assistant airfield maintenance manager Josh Briggs reveals: “Recently we had to change the type of de-icer we were using to meet the new environmental requirements. We have environmental personnel on staff that monitor the different areas on the airport by checking run-off and such. They also keep a tally on the amount of liquid de-icer the airlines are using to de-ice the aircraft so the amounts that get on the ground can be monitored.
“The main trend is the types of de-icing product are more environmentally friendly; however, the cost is higher. We have had to adjust our budget to make up for the gaps in price but once we learned how the products worked we found they were more effective than the product we used before. I think the market will get more competitive in the future as companies come out with new products, which will keep the price down. At least that is our hope,” Briggs adds.
Søren Bligaard, manager of SAS Ground Handling (the handling arm of Scandinavian carrier SAS) comments that while the company aims first to ensure the safety and then the punctuality of aircraft, “We also like to think that we are doing a lot for the environment regarding de-icing.
“We collect the used de-icing fluid so that it doesn’t run out into the countryside, rivers or into the sea. Besides that, our de-icing vehicles have a proportional mixing system, which means that we only use the amount of glycol required to obtain a safe take-off. The proportional mixing system provides the optimal blend according to actual weather conditions, thereby significantly saving the amount of de-icing fluid, which benefits the environment.”
SAS Ground Handling has eight brand new Vestergaard Beta de-icing and anti-icing vehicles. Other manufacturers are also working to reduce the environmental impact of their de-icing vehicles. For instance, Sweden-headquartered Safeaero’s proportional mixing system can blend down to 4% glycol, reducing glycol consumption and eliminating waste.
Safeaero sales manager Michal Hak observes: “Our Hot@Nozzle system means you don’t waste 70 to 80 litres of fluid by spraying it on the ground while you wait for it to be at the required 60°C temperature at the nozzle. We do this as a retrofit kit as well now for the Safeaero 220 and Typhoon units and we’re seeing lots of demand for it, especially in Northern Europe – SAS, Helsinki Airport and KLM are all interested in the retrofit option.”
Another method of reducing glycol consumption is to use forced air. According to Jeff Walsh, executive vice president worldwide sales, service and marketing at Global Ground Support in the US: “AirPlus forced air is the number one option chosen by our customers. 75% of our vehicles supplied in the last three years have had AirPlus. Customers include United, Delta, Air Canada, JetBlue and Southwest Airlines.”
The AirPlus system uses a 715mph stream of air at low pressure (11lbs per square inch), either alone or in combination with de-icing fluid, to remove a variety of contaminants from aircraft.
Also in the States, Integrated Deicing Services (IDS) notes that using forced air reduces glycol consumption by 30 to 50%. It removes the first crust of ice early in the morning, so that de-icing is quicker and “everyone’s a winner”, says Pat Brown, the company’s vice president sales, marketing and customer relations.
KEEPING UP TO SPEED
Key to ensuring safe, efficient and environmentally friendly de-icing operations is training. This is not something that an operator undergoes just once; rather, training is repeated to ensure that staff are always equipped with the skills required to operate equipment safely and efficiently. This is particularly important in locations where severe weather is unusual.
“Training is huge,” Brown sums up. “We have an annual meeting at the end of August and then start hiring in stages depending on the location (for example, we’d hire sooner and at a faster rate in Anchorage than in Charlotte). All our employees are trained even if they’re returning employees and they receive training throughout the season, continually. This is provided in-house. If there’s no event, we pay our people for four hours and train them instead. They don’t just sit around!”
Briggs points out that the equipment used for de-icing and snow removal at airports is becoming more and more complex. “Our staff have to know what speeds to best optimise the amount of snow that’s being swept, the amount of the broom that is touching the ground and be able to communicate on two different radios and still concentrate on what they are doing. For the de-icing operation you have to know the rate of application and be able to operate autonomously on the airfield, which takes months and sometimes years of training and practice.
“When we hire somebody that hasn’t worked at an airport they go through lots of training before they are let on their own. We also do recurring training every year before the snow season starts to make sure everybody is up to speed on the equipment.”
In addition to ongoing training, Briggs and the rest of the team hold meetings at the beginning and end of each snow season. At the beginning they tell the tenants, airlines and ground handlers how they will operate during an event by covering their written snow plan. At the end of the season they ask what could be done better. “This way we can keep improving our process,” he explains.
Similarly, SAS Ground Handling has “a lot of communication with the authority of Copenhagen Airport concerning the remote de-icing pads and that goes for Naviair (air traffic at Copenhagen Airport) too; we have meetings with them throughout the winter season resolving any problems that might appear.”
Bligaard informs that training for de-icing staff starts with theoretical classroom-based lessons, followed by practical training. Employees are retrained every year and a simulator is used for summer sessions to ensure standards are maintained.
He adds: “We are checked every year by the International Air Transport Association’s De-Icing/Anti-Icing Quality Control Pool (DAQCP). The main goal of the DAQCP is to ensure the safety guidelines, quality control recommendations and standards of de-icing/anti-icing procedures at all airports are followed.
When we are audited under DAQCP we have to show the results of our pre-season lab test. We do this in September/October and we also do one mid-season, in January/February to make sure we’re meeting the standards. We use a viscosimeter to measure the viscosity of the de-icing fluid and we also check the pH value; plus, every day we do a refractometer test to make sure there is no deterioration in the fluid.”
Back across the Atlantic, Walsh notes that training equipment is part of Global Ground Support’s offering. The company won a new contract with a major US carrier in June, with the first unit delivered in July. The order was for 78 Ultimate 2200 de-icers with AirPlus, five of them with extended reach booms that can cope with A380s and B777s with their engines running. The client carrier will also receive three de-icing training simulators, developed three years ago and now on version 5.1. “Our simulators include full fluid dynamics, wind speed, precipitation type, holdover times, the same arm rests as our vehicles and so on,” Walsh remarks. “Operators need to build muscle memory to ensure they perform their jobs in the trucks.”
Global Ground Support has also held a contract with the US military since 1997; over 500 of its units are in service currently, and the company was awarded a six-year contract in July. Walsh notes that quality and after-sales support were key points in the tender process, and that training is a crucial part of that after-sales service.
Safeaero’s customer base is mainly to be found in Europe and Russia but just recently the company sold its first units into Canada, as well as in Japan (to the country’s air force). Both of these orders were for the 220 type – one-man operated units that were designed as such rather than adapted from an existing vehicle. “Most de-icers are built from a truck chassis with a de-icing unit on top but ours are designed from scratch with the driver’s cabin being the de-icing cabin, so you can drive and steer them like a conventional car while de-icing,” Hak says.
Safeaero’s units require operators to undergo training to use the boom and spray system, but the parking brake is automated, as is the nozzle function. The operator can control the flow of de-icing fluid, which ranges from 30 litres to 220 litres a minute depending on the weather, the wind and the level of ice and snow. He can drive and spray at the same time, which means faster, more efficient de-icing and a reduction in manpower that saves the customer money. It’s also safer because, with a sole operator, there are no communication breakdowns.
Hak believes that not huge amounts have changed in the de-icing world over the last two or three years. However: “We’ve developed a de-icing management system to help airport authorities. It logs every litre you spray, as well as the time taken, conditions, etc. It’s interesting for the operator and the airport authority and is available in different stages. You can manage and co-ordinate all your de-icing units at once. It uses wireless technology rather than radio, which makes it more efficient and less prone to the sort of errors that can occur with verbal communication. You can tell each of your de-icing units where to go and which de-icing operation to do and it comes up on the touch screen in their cab.
“Management systems will be used more and more – they help in terms of the environment, efficiency, safety, clarity of communication and automatic invoicing. Helsinki Airport and its handlers are linked in this way; also Oslo, Vienna and Amsterdam among others. It has big potential,” he continues.
Computerised pad management and management of processes is becoming more and more widespread throughout the industry. For instance, in Europe, wide-ranging Airport Collaborative Decision Making (ACDM) is becoming more and more popular. ”This sort of system enables de-icers to do their core job as they don’t need to worry about paperwork, they can just concentrate on what they’re doing,” Brown states.
And Walsh is certain that the major US carrier that selected Global Ground Support earlier this year did so at last in part because of its MIDAS telemetry system, which allows greater efficiency and reduced environmental impact. MIDAS (patent pending) tracks employee performance, litres sprayed per minute of de-icing and anti-icing fluid, time taken per aircraft, aircraft de-iced per shift, tank level, GPS location of the de-icing unit and the status of all primary systems so the tower has up to date information. “There are several upgrades in the works as we speak,” Walsh confirms.
SAS Ground Handling is also using technology to improve efficiency. Its Sure weather system allows it to predict holdover times by measuring the liquid levels in snow, for example. It can then adjust holdover times, so less fluid is used. This results in cost savings as well as environmental benefits.
Although airlines and airports all want their de-icing operations to run well for the same reason – keeping aircraft flying with minimal delays during severe weather – they have different parts to play. Briggs outlines: “The airlines are responsible for the aircraft de-icing operations which they will do themselves or contract a company to do it. Our Operations department handles the co-ordination of remote de-icing, which allows the airlines to de-ice right before they get on the runway. This also helps so we can run our glycol recovery vehicle to capture as much of the de-icer as possible with all being in one area instead of spread out all over the ramp.”
The treatment of an aircraft depends on the amount of contaminant, which could be frost, snow or ice and air temperature. Holdover times vary with the different type of liquid de-icer. For airfield maintenance crews, both air and ground temperature and the contaminant are factors in deciding on treatment. “We can use solid or liquid de-icer or a combination of both if necessary,” Briggs informs.
“We watch the ground temperature closely to keep the contaminant from bonding to the surface. If we allow it to bond it becomes too slippery for the aircraft to stop. We may pre-treat a runway with liquid or solid de-icer if we know we may get precipitation to try and get ahead of it. This requires us to monitor the weather closely. Our main priority is the arriving and departing runways and the main taxiways that lead to and from the ramp and terminal. We have sand trucks that dispense the solid de-icer and large tanker-style trucks with booms to dispense the liquid de-icer. We use potassium acetate for our liquid and sodium formate or a sodium formate/acetate blend for our solids.
“Our number one concern is not letting the contaminant – whether snow, freezing rain or even frost – bond to the pavement. Once it does it’s much harder to get off and it makes the surface too slippery as it accumulates more. Water on ice is a big concern. You can put sand on ice to improve the grip but if you have water on top of ice there isn’t much you can do to create the friction you need,” he concludes.