January 10, 2011

Knowing the Procedures, Understanding Costs Helps With Planning

Weather-related issues always pose special challenges for pilots. But at this time of the year, ice and snow are of particular concern, especially during takeoffs and landings, and NBAA is focused on spreading the word about the need to follow prescribed deicing/anti-icing procedures and budget for the associated costs.

As every pilot knows, ice, snow and even frost, can alter the aerodynamics of an aircraft’s wing and fuselage and also add weight, which can reduce lift and lead to loss of control. Clearly, removing frozen contamination from a plane helps ensure its safe operation.

“Returning an aircraft to a ‘known state’ so that it performs as expected is critical,” said Doug Carr, NBAA vice president of safety, security and regulation. “Even the smallest amounts of contamination can degrade an airplane’s performance and take it outside the known performance envelope and beyond the cruisability to handle it.”

While there are a variety of ways to accomplish this, including keeping an aircraft in a heated hangar or even covering it with a tarp, Carr and other industry experts recommend deicing and anti-icing as the most effective methods for keeping an aircraft free of contamination.

In deicing, a Type 1 fluid is used to remove snow, ice or frost from the aircraft. During anti-icing, a type IV fluid, which is thicker and applies a thin coating to the plane, is used to keep frozen precipitation from re-accumulating on the aircraft and protect it while taxing to the runway and during takeoff. “The fluid is designed to take all the contamination it absorbs off as the plane rolls down the runway, revealing a pristine wing ready to fly,” Carr said.

While few will dispute the benefits, deicing and anti-icing can be expensive. Prices typically are based on gallons of solution used; the amount of solution required can vary depending on the size of the aircraft, nature of the contamination and weather conditions at the time of the flight. Per-gallon prices for de-icing solution also can vary from region to region.

With all of these variables, it’s admittedly difficult to peg prices, but here are some examples.

In Fargo, N.D., cleaning a Cessna 172 of ice or light snow might require 10-15 gallons of fluid for a total cost of up to $160, said Jeremy Sobolik, line service manager of Fargo Jet Center. Meanwhile, removing light frost on a clear day from a medium-sized business jet might run a pilot $300, according to Patrick Moylan, director of health safety and environmental services of Signature Flight, which provides deicing/anti-icing services at 35 of its U.S.-based FBOs. “If you have some heavy wet snow on there, multiply that times 10,” he said, adding that the cost to remove freezing rain from the same mid-sized jet might cost close to $10,000.

Why are the costs so high?

FBO’s naturally point to the cost of providing these services. Moylan said the price of a deicing truck on average runs around $250,000. Then there are the costs associated with maintenance, training personnel in deicing procedures and, of course the costs of fluid and labor during deicing. All that, naturally, adds up.

So what’s a pilot or owner/operator to do when budgeting for deicing/anti-icing costs?

Deicing is a relative rarity for most pilots. So, these experts urge pilots and owner/operators to learn the costs of deicing and anti-icing their particular aircraft per event. When monitoring weather conditions for flights into northern climes, check with the airport or FBO to make sure they offer deicing/anti-icing services, and ask about their charges. If heated hangars are available parking a plane in one of those might work, provided there’s space when you get there, and there’s no freezing precipitation when you’re ready to fly. Nevertheless, you’ll want to be ready to anti-ice if there’s frozen precipitation at the time of your flight.

What it all comes down to is this: Planning ahead can make all of the difference when it comes to the dollars and sense involved in deicing.