The Right Tools for the Task

June 30, 2008
In a multi-million dollar project, Aeromag 2000 increased operations at its central deicing facility to provide efficient and cost-effective service to its airline customers.

On a warm spring day at the Aeromag 2000 central deicing facility located across the airfield of Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport in Montreal, the scene was calm — deicing units neatly nestled in the warehouse and air traffic an audible, yet distant reality.

It was a scene that stood in stark contrast of a rigorous winter season that demanded the deicing of more than 9,000 aircraft — 3,000 over an average of about 6,000 aircraft — with about a million gallons of type I ethylene glycol and 225,000 gallons of type IV — about double the average amount of fluid used in a typical season.

Even in unforgiving conditions, it has remained business as usual for the facility. “We’re geared to provide this service,” says Pierre Lesperance, finance director of Aeromag 2000. “We have a number of deicing units to cope with the flow of aircraft. So even if we have a lot of snow it may take a little longer to deice because of contamination, but we’ll manage accordingly with the weather conditions and deploy the required number of deicing units to maintain the flow of aircraft on the pad and the take-off capacity.”

Riding the Storm
The company — which performs deicing operations at several North American locations, including Ottawa and Cleveland — participated in the design of the central deicing facility and has been in the business of tackling wintry conditions since it opened in December of 1997, having to prove its mettle a month later when it was hit with a severe ice storm.
The facility encompasses a warehouse with administration offices and a communications tower as well as a deicing pad of five bays — spanning the length of nine football fields — with four taxiways feeding in and out from the airfield. The pad can accommodate five class 3 aircraft for deicing at one time.

Pride and Preparation
In the off season, the administration offices are bustling with activity to prepare for what the next winter might bring. Training has been a fundamental aspect of its operations, according to Aeromag President Mario Lepine, who says the company invests in more than 60 hours of training for its staff — which consists of about 75 employees in the winter and 15 in the summer.

A second important facet for the facility has been preventative maintenance of its deicing units, investing 80 man hours per unit each summer. “Based on our maintenance program, which is very strict and stringent, the deicing unit manufacturer confirmed that the useful life could easily be more than 20 years without a major overhaul,” Lesperance says.

Among its current fleet of 20 deicing units, there has remained one 1997 model in operation. In fact, upon inspection one would be hard-pressed to spot the older model — which for the company exemplifies a culture of care that has pervaded its operations. “The technicians are proud and when they are up in the deicing unit, it’s clean, it’s neat and when they bring it back once their shift is over, they make sure that it’s clean, nice and neat so that the next deicing technician that will be using it will be proud, so it’s a company philosophy,” Lesperance says.

A philosophy of preparation and pride has proven useful under severe weather, according to Lepine. “With the right tools, the right people — winter arrives and more than 9,000 aircraft get deiced,” he says.

The Right Technology
In an effort to provide maximum efficiency during deicing operations, Aeromag has equipped a data transmission system on each vehicle — a system it has been perfecting for the last six years.

It allows for real-time measurement of fluid levels and a seamless segue between deicing operations in different bays. The system has streamlined much of the process, allowing for an aircraft to be passed in about 10 minutes, according to Lepine.

“This system basically reduces the communication time considerably between the deicing technicians and the deicing coordinators so all the key deicing information is transferred from the deicing units to the main computer and vice versa using electronic data transmission,” he says.

The software has also enabled the company and airlines to measure operation length and evaluate time-consuming practices through a time-stamp system consisting of 13 segments — spanning from the request for service to the transfer of pilot communication back to air traffic control upon exit.

For the collection of used glycol, the facility has implemented an underground recovery network configured to collect high- and low-concentration fluids. “The underground network of pipes and drainage man holes are designed in such a way to maximize the recovery of the high concentration glycol around the aircraft spray area and the low concentration in the surrounding areas that are created by wind and engine blast,” Lepine says.

The network has yielded a retrieval ratio of 4.5 gallons for every one gallon of fluid applied. “In the industry, this is very good because at most airports, you will have more than 10 times the number of gallons applied,” he explains. “So the more used fluid picked up, more fluid to dispose — more it costs for the airline.”

To ensure there has been no glycol contamination, the company conducts periodic testing at designated points around the site.

Facility Financing
In 2005, the company took over the financing from the airport authority and secured $57 million for expansion and management of its operations.

“When we bill the airlines, we bill the airlines for the whole system — infrastructure, deicing units, and fluid … the airport authority does not get involved in billing the airlines for anything related to the deicing operation,’’ Lesperance says.

With the financing, the company replaced several of its older deicing units and increased the fleet size from 12 trucks to 20 at a cost of about $18 million. The remaining funds were allocated to the maintenance and expansion of the infrastructure, which included the extension of the warehouse by 25,000 square feet.

In addition to the trucks and warehouse space, the company introduced an online blending system to allow each deicing unit the capability of mixing the fluid according to the ambient temperature — an operation that has represented significant cost savings for the airlines.

In the past, the deicing fluid was dispensed at a concentration of 50/50, but the company found that the average weather conditions did not call for such a high concentration. Using the data transmission software, each unit has been equipped to blend according to the current temperature.

“We have installed our own weather system, calibrated by Environment Canada so we have the global temperature. Those instruments send the information to our software and our software to all the deicing units at the same time,” Lepine says. “All the deicing trucks are applying at the same moment the same concentration.

“This year the airlines will save over $2 million on type I alone,” he says.

A Concrete Plan
Though Aeromag has added trucks and technology to make deicing time more efficient, the company has found it difficult to keep pace with airport growth, especially the increased occurrence of wide-body aircraft in the evening.

“The growth of the airport is a lot faster than anticipated by the airport authorities. Two years ago they were forecasting the actual traffic that we have now, they were forecasting that in 2012. So we’re basically three to four years ahead, and with mostly wide-body aircraft in the evening that will be the trigger to expand,” Lesperance says.

“We discussed with our partners, before adding concrete we shall add more trucks,” Lepine says. “Before it was two trucks per aircraft and now we have four, five, six trucks per aircraft so the pure deicing time is accelerated. But now whatever we do, we could not achieve more with more trucks. So now it’s time to add concrete.”

The company has planned to add two additional bays that will give room at one time for seven aircraft including one class 6 and three class 5, or eight class 3. “We should be able to go until 2020 with the forecasted traffic,” Lepine says.

Along with the additional concrete, Aeromag has turned an environmentally conscious eye toward its glycol use. The company has been planning to implement a fluid recycling program, which would allow for the reuse of glycol.

The project is still under development with the airlines and airport authority, but Aeromag anticipates it will begin in 2009 or 2010.

The “Off Season”
The continual task of maintaining and improving the facility has proven no small feat, requiring year-round attention. The employees at Aeromag have kept an active schedule with a slew of activities to prepare for an unpredictable upcoming season — training, regular reporting to the airlines, proposals and budgeting — which has left little time for leisure.

“Many people think in the summertime deicing companies play golf,” Lesperance says. “We don’t play much golf.”