Airports are investing in various aspects of their operations and facilities in order to provide more efficient de-icing services while minimising their impact on the environment. Megan Ramsay spoke to several Northern Hemisphere gateways about their preparations for the coming winter season
One airport that deals with severe winter conditions every year is Russia’s Moscow Domodedovo gateway, whose Domodedovo Airport Handling (DAH) business unit carries out de-icing activities there.
Alexander Vlasov, a spokesperson for the airport, says: “It’s true, winter temperatures in Russia can sink to the very low figures… Technical delays of up to 20 minutes are possible in severe weather conditions. These delays are caused by the necessity to conduct de-icing procedures for all aircraft at the airfield and to clear runways and taxiways.”
Every year, Domodedovo makes comprehensive preparations ahead of the autumn/winter period. It ensures the relevant equipment is ready, stocks up on de-icing and anti-icing fluids and provides specific training for employees involved in winter operations.
The airport has 22 de-icers, Vlasov says. These are Elephant Betas and Elephant Beta-15s manufactured by Vestergaard, as well as Safeaero SDI 218s.
Highlighting the Elephant Beta-15, he remarks: “The special feature of this de-icer is that its telescopic boom reaches heights up to 23m. That makes it possible to de-ice even the world’s biggest passenger aircraft – the Airbus A380.”
The airport has a reservoir of anti-icing fluid large enough to handle its needs throughout the entire cold season.
Vlasov points out: “The technical complex of Moscow Domodedovo Airport allows for handling of aircraft with engines running by several de-icers. Grounds for this type of handling are built on both sides of Runway 1. That contributes to a substantial reduction of handling time and faster take-off preparations.
“Domodedovo is the only airport in Russia and the CIS that has such grounds near the runway,” he continues. “Besides this, the airport has the only laboratory in Russia and the CIS states for analysis of the new generation of anti-icing fluids: Maxflight and Octaflo EG.”
Moving west, the UK’s London Southend has become the first airport in Britain to deliver a purpose-built aircraft de-icing facility. Now, instead of de-icing on stand while waiting to depart, an aircraft can push back and taxi to the central facility where, with engines running, it can be de-iced and get on its way for take-off.
Stobart Aviation, which owns the gateway, said the new operation enables more aircraft to de-ice more quickly and get to the runway for departure well within holdover times. The pad’s drainage system captures run-off, which is then treated and disposed of safely.
Glyn Jones, CEO of Stobart Aviation, says: “For both travellers and airlines there is nothing more frustrating than bad weather leading to delays, so we’ve – quite literally – invented a solution to try and minimise that.”
Construction of the facility started in October 2017, and it has now been tested and approved by London Southend Airport airline partners easyJet and Stobart Air.
Integration of the facility into the rest of the airport’s activities involves a specific taxi routing, depending upon which runway is in use for departure, and sequencing of aircraft for the de-icing facility. Training of de-icing crews, including ongoing refresher exercises, plays a big part too, Stobart Aviation chief operating officer Jon Horne points out.
“De-icing aircraft with engines running requires detailed co-ordination and control of the operation – and above all, communication, as the primary objective is to ensure the activity is safe,” he says.
“The preparation of the facility and its procedures involved close liaison with easyJet and Stobart Air and both airlines provided aircraft for testing of these procedures in ‘dry run’ scenarios. We also took advice from experts with long experience in the field, to ensure our safety case was a tight as possible.”
According to Horne, airlines have been very positive and supportive of the initiative. So why aren’t more airports in the UK opting for a similar solution? He considers: “It very much depends upon the nature of a particular airport’s operations and also their infrastructure. [Southend] was fortunate that it was able to add its facility to an existing taxiway and connect the draining into an existing system to capture the run-off de-icer.”
However: “It doesn’t move all de-icing away from the stands, as it can still be more effective to anti-ice against frost and treat frosted contaminated aircraft parked overnight whilst on stand. This can often be done before passengers board, and as such it does not impact on on-time performance,” he observes.
Across the Atlantic, Chicago O’Hare is working on the construction of its own Central De-icing Facility (CDF), a US$168 million project.
Besides a de-icing pad control system and cross-field taxiways, the CDF includes a four-storey, 1,500 sq ft dispatch centre for de-icing operations, scheduled to open this winter and costing $9 million. When completed, O’Hare will have one of the world’s largest centralised de-icing facilities.
Jerzy Jaworski, assistant commissioner, design and construction at the Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA), outlines: “The CDF is an important addition to O’Hare’s overall snow and ice control program. Chicago O’Hare is unique in that it’s the second-busiest airport in the world and located in a part of the country that receives an average of 38 inches of snow each winter.”
The new de-icing facility is located on the west side of the airport near the ends of the east – west runways, allowing for an efficient route for aircraft to take on the way to departing from the runway. It will complement aircraft de-icing operations that occur at gates, helping to minimise delays during the winter season.
Jaworski considers: “Prior to this facility, all aircraft were de-iced at the gate or ramp area adjacent to gates. With about 2,400 flight operations a day and 191 gates at O’Hare, the time aircraft spend parked at the gate comes at a premium. Aircraft will continue to be de-iced at the gate; however, with the ability to de-ice remotely, gate capacity will be restored to more critical needs like the enplaning and deplaning of passengers.”
Airlines will be responsible for managing de-icing of their own aircraft at the CDF, with airline personnel running their operations from the tower that is currently being built. The CDF will be able to hold 20 narrowbody aircraft or five widebodies at a time.
One US airport that is investing in its de-icing fleet is Bangor. The Maine gateway has ordered an ER-2875 de-icer, specifically designed for larger aircraft such as the A380, Antonov An-225, C5 and C17 military aircraft as well as other cargo aircraft of similar size.
Manufactured by Global Ground Support, the ER-2875 uses forced air (alone or in combination with de-icing fluid) and has the longest side reach and highest cab/nozzle height of any mobile de-icer in the world, bringing the operator’s eye level as high as 78 feet, the airport says.
“What this allows is better visual inspection of the aircraft when cleaned and, from the pilot’s standpoint, a speedier de-icing process and turnaround,” says assistant airport director James Canders. “The extra 10 feet of boom will be particularly valuable on larger military and cargo aircraft with a T-tail configuration.”
The new truck replaces the airport’s 2009 model of the same type, which has had some maintenance issues. Canders says that the proportion of larger aircraft visiting Bangor dropped when that high beam de-icer went out of service. Currently, such aircraft make up between 4 and 7% of the gateway’s traffic and he anticipates this will increase when the new Global de-icer arrives – hopefully, in December.
Winter temperatures in Maine regularly fall below freezing – but Bangor never closes for snow, and in fact gets a lot of diversions from airports such as Boston, Halifax and all three New York gateways, Canders notes.
“Typically we have three de-icing trucks operating with two running at any one time,’ he outlines. “We have two de-icing pads, although we usually just use one at a time – we rarely need to use both.”
Bangor’s de-icing pads, like those at Southend in the UK (and the ones that will form part of O’Hare’s CDF), have a drainage system that conducts any de-icing fluid run-off into a ground storage facility, whence it goes to a local wastewater treatment plant. It is also possible to close the drain valve in order to contain fluid on the pad, Canders says, observing that airports – including Bangor – are looking to develop self-contained systems to process waste.
For instance, Portland International Jetport, also in Maine, became the first airport in the US to use 100% recycled aircraft de-icing fluid in January this year.
“This is the culmination of three years of preparation by Inland Technologies [which provides the recycled fluid] and Northeast Air [applying it],” says Paul Bradbury, airport director.
“For the past six years we have captured the aircraft de-icing fluid sprayed at the Jetport to ensure it doesn’t mix with storm water. Our partners at Inland Technologies have taken that process and worked with the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] to be able to process the collected fluid, remanufacture it and turn it into usable aircraft de-icing fluid.”
Inland Technologies president and CEO Roger Langille adds: “This is the first facility of its kind in the United States and we are proud to say that with this expansion, we’re setting a new benchmark for winter operations sustainability.”
Inland has collected nearly 6 million gallons of de-icing fluid since its Portland facility opened six years ago, and recovered nearly 1 million gallons of pure glycol over that time.
O’Hare’s new CDF, meanwhile, was designed with the ability to capture spent glycol for recycling or disposal; currently, all storm water and run-off from the airfield is captured and treated before being released to the region’s water reclamation district.
“The environmental aspect of de-icing operations and how to limit its impact to the natural environment is one of the most important considerations going forward,” Jaworski says. “The ability to capture and potentially recycle these fluids at de-icing pads such as ours, or at the gate, helps airport operators to be better stewards of the environment while maintaining the critical functions of air travel.”
Domodedovo, too, has procedures in place to reduce its environmental impact in line with its principles of ecological responsibility and sustainable development. “In particular, de-icing procedures are being conducted on the specialised grounds in the runway thresholds,” Vlasov says. “The airport has the systems for treatment of storm water and industrial effluents, and industrial environmental monitoring is conducted on a routine basis.”