The De-Iceman Cometh

What once could have been characterized as a "laissez-faire" system of plane de-icing has morphed into a strictly regimented program with new regulations that have eliminated any room for doubt.

In turboprop aircraft, electric heaters de-ice the large rotating propellers. Turboprops also have a rubber cover called a "boot" alongthe leading edge of the wing. The boot can be expanded during the flight to break off any ice that has attached itself to the aircraft. In 1994, an American Eagle ATR-72 turboprop plane succumbed to airframe icing while stuck in a holding pattern near Chicago. The plane wentdown in an Indiana bean field, killing all 68 people aboard, after ice on its wings forced it to spin violently out of control. The culprit was a design flaw allowing ice to form aft of the boot.

In the United States alone there are an average of 50 aviation accidents each year involving airframe icing. However, the number of such accidents has decreased in recent years, in part because of the stricter regulations and the construction of more effective anti-icing facilities like the CDF. Most air-frame icing accidents now pertain tolower-tier general aviation operations and private aircraft. In fact, thunderstorms are responsible for more crashes and deaths in the airline industry than icing; in 2004, thunderstorms caused 14 crashes and 28 deaths, compared with 12 crashes and 25 deaths for airframe icing. As improvements continue to be made in airlines' de-icing systemsand engineers continue to find new ways to address airframe icing onaircraft, perhaps one day the risk of aviation accidents caused by ice will be eliminated altogether.

Just the facts about the CDF

Most aircraft de-iced/anti-iced in a day: 513 (February 3, 2000).

Most fluid dispensed in a season: Just over 7.5 million liters (1,981,290 U.S. gallons) in the 2002-2003 winter season.

Most aircraft de-iced/anti-iced in a year: 14,299 in the 2004-2005season.

Most aircraft de-iced/anti-iced in one month: 4,200 in January 2004.

DOUG MORRIS flies the Airbus 340 and is a certified meteorologist.He is the author of From the Flight Deck: Plane Talk and Sky Science, to be published by ECW Press in May 2007. Special thanks to Joe Forbes, Senior Manager of De-icing Operations at the Greater Toronto Airports Authority.

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