Deicing from a Distance

Sept. 20, 2022
Remote Aircraft Deicing (RAD) technology from Global Ground Support allows ground personnel to perform deicing operations without being on the ramp.

When weather events occur, understaffed ground crews can be stretched even further as they face the pressure of turning aircraft around in a timely fashion while maintaining strict safety protocols.

To assist ground service providers facing such challenges, Global Ground Support developed its Remote Aircraft Deicing (RAD) technology to allow skilled personnel to perform deicing operations without being physically located on the ramp.

“Over the last two decades, there has been a huge shift from the airlines operating deicers to third-party vendors. There are benefits to using vendors but one of the challenges to the vendors is manpower,” says Jeff Walsh, chief sales and marketing officer at Global Ground Support, adding third-party ground handlers with fewer personnel face an increased challenge with a seasonal activity like aircraft deicing.

“RAD will allow vendors to utilize employees at other stations to backfill this deicing manpower requirement,” he continues. “Additionally, most vendors have several people at each station that are deicing experts. These experts, at a station that is not having winter weather, can supplement the station that has an immediate need.”

Global Ground Support’s concept for Remote Aircraft Deicing has been in development for nearly seven years. Walsh explains the company used that time to further develop the technology to make it a cost-effective solution.

According to Walsh, two specific interactions inspired the business plan to develop RAD.

The first instance occurred when Walsh was installing and conducting training for one of Global’s Virtual Reality (VR) Deicing Training Simulators at LaGuardia Airport (LGA).

“One of the operators turned to me and said, ‘Why can’t I just stay here in this nice warm room and use this to run the truck outside in the freezing cold?’’ he recalls.

“The second was a time I was visiting a customer during one of their hiring workshops. They needed to hire almost 150 employees and kept saying how they had so many qualified employees at other cities, and they wished they could use them at this location,” he continues. “RAD solved both problems and many others.”

Each remote operator station allows a user to operate one vehicle at a time. Depending on the company, Walsh explains an operator can be assigned to a deicer for a shift, a departure bank or even just a single flight.

The RAD system fully integrates Global Ground Support’s patented MIDAS telemetry system. Walsh explains this allows owners and operators to see system status, operator performance, station performance and reliability data live on any web-enabled device.

Since its inception, Global Ground Support has made improvements to the user interface, system components and data transmission options.

What’s more, Global Ground Support, along with its two primary partners on the RAD system, completed a Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA).

“This involves looking at every single component, signal, input, etc., and determining how a failure would impact the system,” Walsh notes. “An example is a single camera failure might not require the system to be deactivated, but a combination of a camera and an anti-collision sensor would.”

With RAD, it is not necessary to have anyone in the vehicle during the deicing process. However, Walsh notes the current scenario is that at least one manned truck will be used in combination with remotely operated deicers.

The manned vehicle, Walsh explains, will be responsible for ensuring the aircraft is completely clear of frozen precipitation and communicate with the flight crew.

“A Radio Over Internet Protocol (ROIP) system is used so the remote operators are automatically connected to both the ground/air and ground/ground radios at the facility where the vehicle is operating," he says.

Global Ground Support, which manufactures all the equipment for the patent pending RAD system, completed its first season of testing at Denver International Airport (DEN). The company will perform further testing during the 2022-23 winter season at multiple operator stations located across North America.

Although remotely operated vehicles are new to the aviation industry, it is a proven technology that has been used in mining and construction for almost a decade, according to Walsh. He says utilizing remote technology can offer financial, efficiency and sustainability benefits.

“It has been proven over and over that the level of proficiency of a deicing operator has a direct impact on the time of the process, quantity of fluid used and possibility of aircraft damage,” Walsh says. “RAD allows companies to utilize their best employees, achieving a much higher level of productivity while decreasing costs to the under user – airlines.”

Customers can also invest in options like Global’s Premium Blend, AirPlus and MIDAS products to reduce the total glycol required to safely deice aircraft.

When spec’ing a deicing truck, individual customers must determine which model and options will work best for their specific operation. Details like where the operation is located, the size of the aircraft being deiced, the number of operations per day and environmental restrictions factor into these decisions.

A location with a moderate climate, like Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) in Washington, D.C., would have a hard time justifying internal Type 1 blending or enclosed cabs, according to Walsh.

“If you are only going to deice a couple of aircraft a day/week, an open basket would be the most economical choice,” he adds.

Walsh also says to get the maximum service life and reliability from a deicing unit is to adhere to the recommended maintenance schedule.

“We have customers that are incredible at this and have units in operation that are over 20 years old,” Walsh says. “Secondarily, following the PM (preventative maintenance) schedule increases the long-term value of the unit.”

Presently, Global Ground Support is only offering RAD on its high-end units, including trucks that have single-operator, enclosed cabins and forced air. However, Walsh explains that RAD was developed to be added as an option to any Global Ground Support deicer model.

As RAD technology becomes more commonplace, Walsh believes it can drastically affect the way ground handlers approach deicing requirements.

“Today, a RAD deicing truck can be used in either the ‘remotely operated’ mode or as a one-man or two-man unit,” Walsh says. “As this technology becomes more accepted, I envision the enclosed baskets and chassis driving positions will eventually be eliminated. This would allow us to increase the boom length, reduce the cost of the chassis and increase the cost-benefit of the RAD system.”