Standardizing the System

The world is growing smaller but the rules, regulations and paperwork are increasing for deicing services and training. Standardization of procedures nationwide and possibly worldwide seems like the logical answer, but is it possible? Writes Alicia Hammond

April 2004

The processes involved in deicing and anti-icing a plane have changed drastically in the past 20 years, from using brooms and water to the high-tech infrared systems being created today. But the typical process used on the ramp currently involves spraying glycol onto planes; however, that is where the similarities end. Airlines, airports, ground handlers, countries, unions, organizations, etc. have all come up with different ways of going about the deicing process. Different types of glycol, different hold over times and different ways of spraying create slight to major variants in the system. Can anyone keep track of them all? Probably not, which is why many people in the deicing industry are saying that national and international standardization in deicing and anti-icing is a concept to be explored and perhaps implemented some day.

Deicing standards for the United States are from the Federal Aviation Administration's FAR 121.629, which defines the reason for performing deicing/anti-icing and provides the explanation for developing a program. In Europe, the Joint Aviation Authority issued a statement concerning deicing, JAR OPS 1/345(a), which is almost identical to the FAA's rule.

Since there is no required worldwide standard many countries have come up with their own rules including the Russian Federation. If a country has no standards, most rely on an international standard such as ISO 11076 or SAE ARP 4737. But for many operators these programs are hard to follow because they are more specific to certain types of airlines or airports.

The European Union (EU) seems to be off to a faster start concerning standardizing than is the United States.

"We have a big need for standardization. First to increase safety, reduce costs and interchangeability of documentation," says Dieter Herman, Director Technical Services for Octagon Process, Inc. in Vienna, Austria. "The need has been seen by the major European Airlines in 1982 after the Potomac Disaster to make firm rules for fluid development, procedures, training and so on."

Airlines that are in EU countries - including Finnair, Lufthansa, KLM, SAS, Austrian Airlines, British Airways, Air France and Swissair have formed a deicing/anti-icing work group based on the work of the individuals and international developments. After the document was created and agreed to by these individuals, the Technical Operational - Committee of the Association of European Airlines (AEA) approved the document and distributed it with their seal of approval. Herman says the document is not required but provides a basis for deicers in Europe since the JAA is not very active and the EU does not require any standardization. For the EU, which is still in its infancy, standardization between countries is important in many areas, including deicing.

"Most [deicing workers] fully support this subject. I never heard any direct opposition." Herman says. "Some are just reserved about the possible increase, when they are not spending any time and money for training and so on. But exactly these companies are the targets, as they have low standards with safety risks."

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), an ANSI member and accredited standards developer, has come up with several publications concerning the process of deicing. They also have a yearly conference which meets in different locations to bring together deicing professionals from all over the world to discuss all angles of this aviation service.

At last year's SAE/FAA Inflight Icing/Ground De-icing International Conference in Chicago, IL, one of the panel discussions concerned deicing standardization training. Herman, as well as Oliver Arzt from N*CE Aircraft Services and Support in Germany and Brian Anderson of Northwest Airlines sat on the panel that involved a heated debate on how such a global standardization is possible. The answers were not clear but most were in agreement that the issue was something important that should be pursued.

Although some may feel the aviation industry has bigger problems to deal with, Herman feels this issue has tremendous potential to reduce many problems.

"In the aviation world, with airlines fighting to survive the financial problems," Herman says, "standardization [could] save a lot of costs and should have a bigger value for them all."

In the US, standardization does not seem to be at the forefront. There are very few standard regulations that are required. "I think that deicing has come so far so quick in the last 10 years and everyone and every airline is just trying to keep up and do what they need to do to keep up," says Jeff Smith, Manager of Customer Service Ramp Operations for Northwest Airlines (NWA) at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport (MSP). "You think about the way everyone deiced 15 years ago, it was completely different as far as the equipment or the glycol."

Many companies come up with their own procedures based on their experience and federal regulations. Today, deicing procedures must be submitted to the FAA's Federal Aviation Regulations by all companies offering this service; if it meets the requirements set it is accepted. However, the deicing operation created at many airports in the United States varies greatly. There is no one set model that is consistently agreed upon due to different companies involved and the different sizes of airports.

At MSP, Northwest Airlines is responsible for spraying almost 80 percent of the aircraft that go through this airport resulting in approximately 7600 flights in a season. They have a large dedicated crew and back up crew to run the deicing operations and normally are spraying 12 to 13 aircraft at one time. This requires a lot of organization and planning.

Opinions differ about the best way to spray a plane, the types of equipment used and where the service should take place on the ramp. Opinions differ about the best way to spray a plane, the types of equipment used and where the service should take place on the ramp.

The deicing crew not only has to know the rules for deicing NWA, but also the other airlines that they spray. "At this station, we do all of Northwest, we do some of Mesabas, we do Iceland Air and we do KLM. We are primary for those airlines and then we are secondary for just about everyone else that flies in here. So if Delta, Continental, American West needs it, we will spray them," Smith says. They distinguish between primary and secondary vendors depending on if they will spray that company's plane every time it is needed or only when that company cannot spray their own plane.

"What we do at the beginning of the season is we get a hold of each of these airlines and we have a differences package. Basically, [an airline] says that either they agree to let us spray their aircraft according to our procedures," says Smith. "If there is anything different we put it into a differences package so that when we train, we can say 'okay, this is something unusual about this airline, so watch out.' We go through every airline that we could possible spray and say this is what is different with this aircraft and so forth."

However, deicing standardization is not simply about spraying glycol. Many other parts come into the process including forms, types of glycol, training, equipment, hold over times, environmental issues, glycol disposal, etc. Standardization is not an issue that can be easily implemented. It would take time, coordination and communication.

"I think it would be possible to get everyone together. It would just take some communications and coordination between everyone to come up with the procedures that everyone agrees upon," Smith says. "Everybody does it a little bit different but the end result is the same."

Even though standardization seems to be, on one hand, a helpful idea that will save time and money, on the other hand; it seems a daunting task to standardize the European Union or the US, let alone the world. According to Herman, the only issue standing in the way of a common standard is the people themselves. "As the aviation business is a global one with everybody crossing continents and taking local services, the standardization is a must all over the world," Herman says. "The main problems are the large 'political' differences between the USA, Canada and Europe and in a smaller way Russia, China and Japan. Often we see that their interpretation finally leads to different rules, also local experience is influencing. I see a very important way to get standardization is to leave 'politics' and 'personal feelings' outside and allow the acceptance of foreign ideas and work."

There have been strides toward ensuring that all deicing operations are working at the highest level of safety and efficiency but there is still a lot of work that can be done and no one way to go about it. Times are changing and companies need to move ahead or be left behind. Initiating a deicing /anti-icing standardization could be a first step in the right direction.