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Photo: Suzan Gökboga

Aviation

The new ways of de-icing aircrafts

A new IT tool is helping SAS more precisely calculate the amount of de-icing fluid that an aircraft needs.

In wintry conditions, a common state of affairs in Scandinavia, the need to de-ice aircraft before takeoff is vital. Frozen materials can result in uneven surfaces, which may disrupt smooth airflow and therefore the ability of wings to generate lift.

Photo: Suzan GökbogaUnfortunately, however, while there has been a lot of a development in the fluids and the processes used to apply them, they can still have a negative environmental impact. This is primarily due to the chemicals in aircraft de-icing fluids that can adversely affect local ecosystems, should they enter them.  

To combat this, SAS is using a new IT system support tool that will help to significantly reduce the amount of de-icing fluid that it uses. 
“The state-of-the-art solution that we are implementing right now is an improved decision support system,” says Lars Andersen Resare, Head of Environment & CSR at SAS. “It gives us more detailed knowledge of how long the fluid will be active, based on current meteorological conditions such as temperature, visibility and precipitation.”

The timeframe for airlines to make decisions about using de-icing fluid is normally little more than 20 minutes, Andersen Resare explains. It’s a decision that is made as the aircraft is being prepared for takeoff and one that, until now, was based on a static chart. This almost invariably leads to an overly cautious approach and much more de-icing fluid than is necessary being used.
“The new system provides us with more accurate information, which means that we can confidently use less fluid to get the same result,” says Andersen Resare. 

Photo: Suzan GökbogaA system provider called SureWx has adapted the new tool, which is currently in use at other airlines around the world, to meet SAS’ needs and in particular, operating in harsh Scandinavian winters. 

The system uses data on snowfall and other types of precipitation collected from weather sensors at the airport, to calculate a more accurate use of the different types of fluid available. 
“It’s about using big data and know-how collected by others to be confident in your decision,” says Andersen Resare. 

While he adds that the environmental impact from de-icing fluids is actually quite small and that much of the excess fluid is sucked up from airport tarmacs by special trucks, the reduction in the use of the fluids is, nevertheless, significant. And there are a number of reasons for this.

Firstly, the biodiversity around airports is very high as there are very few people and, as Andersen Resare says, “while the environmental hazard is not considered to be that big of an issue, if it can be reduced in any way, that is, of course, positive.”

Other important sustainability benefits arise from the fact that the application of less fluid results in a faster turnaround time for the aircraft. This gives more available time for the actual flight, which is especially useful for reducing the speed an aircraft may need to travel at to make up for delays, which are more common during the winter. Consequently, this has a positive impact on fuel consumption and lowers greenhouse gas emissions.

Photo: Suzan Gökboga

Another long-term sustainable benefit arises from the fact that the use of the chemicals over time results in more wear and tear on the aircraft. So the less fluid used, the less wear and tear. The lower demand from the industry to produce harmful chemicals is, of course, also a benefit in itself. For all of these reasons, SAS is supporting the development of the SureWx tool and encouraging other airlines to use it.
“The emission reduction from this is not that big,” says Andersen Resare. “But it is still one more step -toward supporting our greenhouse gas emission targets. And any reduction in the use of chemicals in our operations is important. It is a little tricky, though, because I think our travelers prefer for us to use a lot of de-icing fluids on the aircraft, and now we’re saying we’re going to use less. But trust us, because this is going to be excellent. We can use less with the same effect without jeopardizing safety.”

Last edited: February 26, 2019

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