Fly safer — thanks to de-icers


Have you ever seen a bird with ice on its wings?

Precisely. What flying animals know by instinct is equally valid for man-made flying machines. Keeping aloft properly means keeping off anything that would interfere with an aerofoil’s lift. That includes ice and snow, which, in frigid weather and especially in a storm, can build-up on the metal surfaces of an airplane quicker than one can say ‘Jack Frost’.

Although de-icers had been used for decades and regulations on wing contamination had been established in the 1950s, no widely-followed policy for de-icing yet existed. Aviation experts soon worked up mandatory rules, and de-icing is now done according to very detailed, careful guidance.

Clariant is a leader in the field.

Let me count the way

In principle, there are numerous ways to keep an airplane’s wings ice- and snow-free. Over the years, people have used mechanical scrapers, electric heaters and air-blasters to do it. Predominantly they have settled on technique different to those three: coating the surface of the wings and the fuselage with a liquid that will not freeze even in very cold conditions.

In any airport at higher latitudes, de-icing is a regular activity when the weather is wintry. A vehicle that looks like a fire truck pulls up next to an airplane, and hot de-icer fluid is hosed onto all sensitive surfaces: wings, tails, controls, engines, air conditioning inlets and exits, landing gear, fuel tank vents, fuselage, nose as well as flight deck windows. This removes any snow and ice already there, and keeps any from re-forming until the craft is airborne. As the airplane accelerates through take-off, the liquid runs off all those surfaces, leaving them aerodynamic for the ongoing flight.

De-icing fluids come in a variety of types, tailored for: the weather, the length of time they must stay on an airplane and the logistics of the airport where they are used. Clariant makes all kinds, supplies all major regions and conducts ongoing research and development to make the fluids as effective as they can be, while also as efficient and cost-conscious as possible. Clariant is the global market leader, and is dedicated to this business for the long term. Additionally, Clariant offers a range of products to make and keep runways ice-free.

Let’s go ‘round again – de-icer recycling

De-icers are of course designed to protect human life. At the same time, they are also designed to go easy on the environment as well. Unavoidably, some of the fluid sprayed on an airplane falls to the ground during take-off. Great care has been taken that this liquid is relatively harmless and also biodegradable. Natural microorganisms in the soil digest it, converting it into ordinary water and carbon dioxide.

What’s more, most de-icer never even makes it that far. When de-icing is surrounded by dedicated drains, 60-80% of used fluid can be collected. After screening and cleaning, spent de-icer can be distilled back to commercial purity. If done onsite – as at the Munich Airport – the fluid is returned to the de-icer stockpile. If done offsite – as at Oslo and Zurich Airports – the fluid is shipped out for use in other industrial applications. Recycling is a boon to the environment. According to an independent scientific study, it cuts the carbon footprint of de-icing by 40-50%.

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