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January 11, 2010 / Dave Gorham

Lack of Deicing Fluid Changes Plans

As we approach the 28th anniversary of the iced-over Air Florida flight (Jan 13, 1982) that plunged into the frigid Potomac River shortly after take-off from then-named Washington National Airport, and as we draw to a close what may be the coldest week of the 2009-2010 season, how many of you have been delayed at the airport or, more likely, delayed on the ramp while waiting for your aircraft to be de-iced?

After the Potomac crash, sweeping changes were made to the way aircraft would be deiced. Namely, the length of time between deicing and flight was dramatically shortened.  Deicing stations are now placed closer to the departure-end of the runways to minimize the opportunity for ice to accumulate on control surfaces. Other changes were directed toward the same goal: Minimize time between deicing and take-off.

 Source: Wiki

What happens when your airport runs out of deicing fluid? You’re stuck if you’re already on the ground and the weather turns sour. If you’re in the air or your trip is still in the planning stages, you’re preferred route may need to be changed. Business aviation was jumping through hoops last week as airports ran out of deicing fluid and forced last-minute changes for inbound flights. Cities like London and Paris exceeded their average annual snowfall (about 10 inches) in just over two weeks and deicing stock and supply lines for area airports were severely taxed. Some airports would deice only commercial aircraft, leaving all others to fend for themselves. Ireland’s Shannon Airport, a busy fuel stop for cross-Atlantic air traffic, ran out of deicing fluid for several days last week which forced a near-closing of the airport. If you’re a dispatcher for your company’s private jet and you need to stop for fuel on the east side of the Atlantic, do you risk a stop at Shannon, or do you pick a different airport where deicing supplies are more secure (as of today, Shannon’s deicing supplies have returned to normal)? If you’re the airport manager at Shannon Airport, how do you compensate for the lost business?

Most of the time, deicing an aircraft is part of the expected delay most commercial airlines build-in to their winter flight times. However, unusual and/or extreme weather has a way of dealing with the best laid plans.


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