Digital Deicing

Trained deicing operators handling deicing equipment and deicing fluid are all mandatory essentials when it comes to winter operations on the ramp.

But our recent travels have led to a couple of international examples of deicing operations the make use of technology behind the scenes.



Two years ago, Iberia Airlines began its Agora Project, an ongoing program with some 220 initiatives designed to enhance its customer airport experience at its main hub at the Madrid-Barajas Airport, the main international airport for Spain’s capital and largest city.

Many of these initiatives focus directly on its passengers and center inside the terminal. Holographic virtual assistants, for example, inform customers about services at the check-in area. Self-service kiosks can issue boarding passes and baggage tags in less than 30 seconds.

But the airline has reserved a number of quality standards to increase the efficiency of ground operations on the ramp.

Last year, for example, the airline began using a new deicing management system that enables deicing operators to enter real-time data about the progress of deicing tasks on PDAs with the data received by supervisors equipped with tablet PCs.

The data can also be accessed in real time by the airport’s control tower, the Aeropuertos Españoles y Navegacin Aérea, the country’s agency that owns and operates most of Spain’s airports, as well as Iberia’s control hub, which coordinates all the airline’s handling operations.

“We’ve introduced the concept of mobility to a lot of work processes carried out on the ramp,” says Dimitris Bountolos, deputy director of coordination and hub for Iberia. “This increases efficiency at every level of work carried out around our planes with practically paperless ramp handling operations.”

Behind the scenes of the ground operations, new technologies and re-engineered processes have been implemented and updated. Iberia engaged INFORM, a technology partner of Iberia since 2007, to support the optimization of resource planning and deployment as part of the project’s aim to improve the efficiency of airport operations. INFORM’s GS Planning determines resource requirements and creates optimum staff shift and shift pattern models using integrated flight information processing to produce the best possible short-, medium- and long-term plans. On the day of operation, GS RealTime takes care of creating tasks according to constantly changing flight schedules and allocates the resources to carry them out.

The mobile devices, of course, go much further than improving deicing operations.

  • GSE Inspections: The airline has also developed an app that easily provides a daily inspection of the 800 pieces of GSE used at the airport to service planes. Graphic displays show various elements that need to be checked.
  • Baggage Handling: Baggage crews also access the tablets and receive all the information needed for operations in real time. This helps ramp agents be more proactive, foresee potential problems and provide better service.

Although not connected with the mobile devices, the airline is relying on technology to test a telemetry system to help reduce fuel consumption for its GSE fleet.

The system uses wireless links installed in fuel trucks allowing radio communication with chips installed on each piece of GSE. A reader on each vehicle will monitor engine running time and distance traveled. All these devices give a real-time basis for computing fuel consumption and needs.



We met Jrgen Barthel, manager of marketing and sales for Delair Air Traffic Systems GmbH, Braunschweig, Germany, at last year’s inter airport show in Munich, who described the software company’s deicing product Arosa.

The system consists of two modules:

  • A “pre-tactical” module that forecasts needed deicing capacity, according to expected demand.
  • And a “tactical” module that helps plan the most efficient sequence for deicing at the gate or at deicing pads using algorithms based on the analysis of hundreds of thousands of individual arrivals and departures.

Considering the weather forecast, a deicing manager can adjust the expected deicing procedures and status with the software. In addition, the resulting forecast and development display allows users to manage the situation and not just react to it.

We recently caught up with Barthel again when the company won an HIS Jane’s ATC Award for Innovation at the World ATM Congress.

The Arosa system is currently in operation at the Dusseldorf and Zurich airports. Barthel sent us a presentation he recently gave at a winter ops conference in Canada on some of the success the system has had at the Zurich Airport:

  • Following a record season last winter, the airport reported a 33 percent increase in deicing procedures than the previous record winter set in 2003/04 and a 75 percent increase compared to the previous winter.
  • At the same time, heavy snow (deicing type 4 vs. type 1) increased from 30 percent to 41 percent.

Using the software’s information Zurich’s deicing management was able to provide reliable forecasts of deicing demand.

“Providing forewarning proved invaluable for the airlines as they not only can reschedule crew shifts more accurately,” Barthel says, “but also prepare and inform passengers early about necessary delays or rebookings. Ground handlers and deicing crews also appreciated such forewarnings since it expands their operational awareness from the handling of the immediate demand to understanding and properly planning peaks.”

Being fully integrated into the departure management process, the Arosa programming also improved resource allocation, according to the company. It increased the efficiency having aircraft deiced on stand and on deicing pad just-in-time for their departure. The integration into the departure sequence planning also optimized taxi-time and taxi-fuel-consumption, meeting Zurich’s goals to further improve carbon emission goals for the airport and airlines.

“The high accuracy of the tactical forecasting of the deicing demand allows us to pro-actively prepare for upcoming delays or flight cancellations with the ground handling companies, airlines and other involved partners,” says Urs Haldimann, head of deicing coordination at Zurich Airport. “Our partners have come to understand this high accuracy to give them a tactical advantage compared to other airports working without such a tool, allowing them to prioritize their flights and manage not just the current situation, but to prepare for it.”