Snow and Ice Control Chemicals for Airports Operations

Proper management of snow and ice at airports is essential for on-time winter operations.


Proper management of snow and ice at airports is essential for on-time winter operations. These functions always include commercial aircraft movements during pushback, taxi and takeoff. But maintenance personnel must also ensure safe working conditions for luggage and cargo handling, airport security, FBOs and a myriad of other airside activities happening during what are often brutal winter storm conditions.

Delays and employee injuries resulting from ineffective snow and ice control cost airlines, airports and their customers precious time and revenues in what today are fragile economic times for the industry. And at the same time officials must manage chemical outfall and potential environmental impacts.

Use Mechanical Equipment as the First Option

Today’s high-speed broom and plow techniques offer the best first strategy for removing snow and ice deposits from airport surfaces. Keeping ahead of the storm using proper mechanical means minimizes chemical usage and can provide adequate friction for safe operations. Mechanical removal is preferred at low temperatures, below 15 degrees Fahrenheit, when snow is dry and does not bond or adhere to gate areas, ramps and runways.

Choosing the Right Deicer

Deicers are used when plows and brooms are not sufficient. Deicers are used to prevent bonds from forming between snow and ice and moisture in the pavement, or to break those bonds once formed. The remaining frozen deposits can then be removed mechanically. When choosing the right deicer, review the certification, the effectiveness and how the deicer works.

Deicer Certification Required from the Vender

Ramp and runway deicers should be certified to airport approved specifications. Deicers must pass airframe material compatibility, corrosion, concrete, paint, storage stability and other standards established by airline, airport and government officials. The liquid specification is SAE AMS 1435 and the solid is SAE AMS 1431.

Urea is a nitrogen-heavy, granular fertilizer and should not be used. Because it is approximately 46 percent nitrogen by weight most major airports have stopped using it for environmental pollution reasons.

Deicer Effectiveness

Deicers lower the melting point of ice and snow turning them into liquid brine solutions. When the brine makes contact with the surface it flows outward and breaks the bond between ice deposits and the pavement. A deicer’s type and active ingredient concentration determine how quickly brine forms, and the product’s residual or staying power and effectiveness.

Airports must know when to use liquid and solids. Lambert-St. Louis International Airport uses primarily liquid potassium acetate on its runways but often switches to solids on ramps and walkways. Airfield Administrator Bill Korte comments, “…the St. Louis area experienced one of the worst winter storms we have seen in the past three years. By the time we officially called off our snow crews, we had 7.9 inches of snow mixed with almost two inches of freezing rain and ice.

“We used NAAC (solid sodium acetate anhydrous) on our elevated ramps, drives and sidewalks in front of the terminals from the beginning of the storm event. After the ice hit and temperatures dropped to the single digits, we mixed NAAC with sand and applied it in conjunction with E36 (liquid potassium acetate) on our tug roads and in the airline gate areas.”

“The results, in every case, were extraordinary. We were able to maintain 80 to 90 percent ‘bare pavement’ conditions in these areas throughout the storm.”

Understand How Deicers Work

Liquid deicers are generally used as “anti-icers.” This means they are applied before frost, ice or snow accumulate and have a chance to bond to the pavement. The technique prevents frozen deposits from adhering — like Pam® on a frying pan, allowing any remaining snow and ice to be removed more easily with mechanical equipment. The first anti-icing application is generally made just before the event starts, again as needed during the storm — following mechanical removal — to prevent bonding.

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