Winter is coming! This season is the favorite of many for several reasons – It is time to play around with snow, gather with the family, celebrate New Year with friends and much more. For airlines, though, the colder months bring some challenges. While winter in the northern hemisphere officially starts in December, the aviation winter season – or, as we call it, the de-icing season – generally starts in October. By then, qualified staff and specially designed vehicles have to be ready for the crucial task of removing snow, ice and frost from the aircraft´s surface.
What makes de-icing so critical? Well first of all it is a matter of security for passengers and crew. Airplanes must have clean surfaces to fly safely. Any type of contaminant such as ice has the potential to interfere with a safe take-off due to the disruption of airflow (a quarter-inch-thick layer of ice on a plane is enough to disrupt the way air flows over its wings). Thus, the application of anti-icing is paramount not only to remove frost and co. but also to delay the reformation of ice or facilitate its removal, as the substance remains on the surface for a certain period.
On the other hand, from an operational perspective, inefficient de-icing processes on the ground can result in major flight delays and cancelations. It is estimated that about 60,000 flights get canceled each year because of cold temperatures, which costs airlines and airports around $3 billion. The nature of de-icing demand forces aviation entities to be ready to react on very short notice, which is often very challenging:
- The lack of reliable weather predictions makes it hard to accurately predict in advance when the de-icing process should take place.
- Clear communication and coordination of activities not always the case as different stakeholders are involved.
But do not worry, there are some ways you can optimize your de-icing process.
Our Expert Tips for the De-icing Season:
1. Match the Available Resources with your Operational Needs
It is estimated that aircraft de-icing can extend the ground handling time by 15 minutes in average. However, depending on the weather conditions, de-icing requirements can vary, which can potentially affect the aircraft´s waiting time on the tarmac. In order to be able to react to such operational requests in a timely manner, it is important to have the right resources at the right place.
An efficient deployment of resources can be achieved by optimizing the schedule of staff and vehicles rather than following First Come First Serve principles where the sequence of deicing is determined by the time of the request. When available resources are allocated considering variables like flight priority and individual slots, higher traffic volumes can be handled without compromising SLAs.
The airport infrastructure also plays an important role, requiring the efficient utilization of gate de-icing and remote de-icing pads in line with the optimized utilization of de-icing vehicles.
Finally, you have to consider the individual requests of pilots as well. All these aspects have to be managed within the short timeframe of an aircraft turnaround.
2. Improve Stakeholder Communication
Multiple stakeholders are involved in the de-icing process – airport, airline, ground handler as well as air traffic control. As they all have specific information requirements, it is important to guarantee the provision of the right level of data at the right time. One way to do that is with the integration of flight and weather information. Electronic means to record pilot request, and electronic recordings of the different de-icing process steps can also help to improve operational awareness and transparency, reduce voice communications and facilitate the tracking of de-icing activities.
Advanced Technology Supports De-icing Operations
The optimization of the de-icing processes at the airport with regard to the timely use of resources and data is fundamentally crucial in order to minimize the impact of cold weather on aircraft departures.
Utilization of integration platforms, resource optimization tools and AI to enhance predictions will help you to be better prepared for the upcoming winter seasons, bringing travelers to their families on time for the holiday season.