It is no secret that weather patterns have become increasingly more extreme. Potent snow and ice storms are presenting major challenges to airlines, ground handlers and airports. When effective deicing procedures are not in place, these challenges become even more pronounced. Inefficiencies relating to deicing processes can result in major problems ranging from scheduling delays and increased costs (labor and materials), to safety issues and passenger dissatisfaction. Some ground handlers are forming core deicing specialist groups and deploying deicing simulators and deicing trucks to train large numbers of ground workers. It’s understandable then why the aircraft deicing market is projected to reach $1.30 billion by 2020, as reported in the Markets and Markets “Aircraft De-Icing Market – Global Forecasts & Analysis to 2020.” Further supporting the sector’s growth, a recent statistic reported in the “Aircraft De-Icing Fluids Market by Aircraft Type, by Fluid Type, by Material Type, and by Region, Trend, Forecast, Competitive Analysis, and Growth Opportunity: 2018-2023” projects that the global aircraft deicing fluid market will reach US $848.1 million in 2023. One tool, which air transportation organizations are relying on to improve their deicing processes, is optimization software. Through its application, fed by real-time information, significant enhancements can be achieved across key areas of operational awareness, resource management, automated communications and performance monitoring. Gaining a better understanding of the deicing challenges and optimization software’s role in mitigating these challenges, as well as the associated costs and exposures is important for all ground handlers.
Challenges Presented by Icing Conditions
Under adverse weather conditions, aircraft may need to be deiced, which inevitably leads to an increase in operational costs for airlines, a reduction in airport capacity, knock-on effects on aircraft rotations in a carrier's network, and constant rescheduling for an airline’s airport slots on the ground. Understandably, airports, airlines, air traffic control and ground handlers are interested in minimizing these adverse effects. Optimized deicing processes help keep air and ground operations safe and stable and delays at bay, while optimizing airport capacity. To accomplish this, advanced planning and day of ops adjustments are essential. Airports need to determine deicing start times, aircraft locations, resource requirements and accurate deicing processing times early on.
Deicing logistics processes are complicated and depend on a number of variables, some which are difficult to predict like temperature and precipitation. Adding another level of complexity, a pilot can make deicing requests up to 40 minutes before a flight’s scheduled departure. Service providers must respond quickly to these requests. They must dispatch the right number of fully-prepared deicing trucks to the appropriate aircraft location (i.e., at the gate or a remote deicing pad). For example, deicing the A380 jet requires six Vestergaard deicing trucks (“Elephants”). It is critical to deice the aircraft prior to its scheduled departure, while also accounting for accurate hold over times to eliminate the need for a second treatment. This is not only important to contain costs and to prevent further delays, but also to limit the use of deicing fluids to protect the environment. Deicing fluids are a mixture of hot water and glycol, which is known to cause oxygen depletion if it leaks into groundwater and subsequently into lakes and rivers. This is why airports such as the Portland International Jetport (Portland, Maine, USA) began capturing, storing and recycling deicing fluid after aircraft spraying operations. The airport collected six million gallons of deicing fluid over a six-year period, starting in 2012.
The contingency characteristics of deicing procedures also demand a higher level of workforce management. Additional workers must be trained and need to be available on demand. Additionally, being able to protect workers during these procedures in extreme cold conditions is very important. Similarly, it is essential that equipment resources be effectively managed so that there are adequate trucks available when needed, as well as an ample supply of the appropriate fluids. Running out of deicing fluid can render catastrophic results. In 2018, a US carrier had to cancel over two hundred flights in one afternoon, because it ran out of deicing fluid at one of the airports from which it operates. A similar problem was experienced by a Russian ground handler at Vnukovo Airport which crippled the related airport’s operation. The ground handler turned to INFORM for its deicing solution which automatically monitors the fluid tanks and task status. It creates deicing fluid tank tasks automatically, thereby preventing a scenario wherein fluid is sprayed to the point where tanks are left empty.
All of these areas of course have a direct impact on passengers, whose primary concern is timeliness and the safety of their flight. For the service providers, adhering to their Service Level Agreements (SLAs) is of utmost importance, and for all parties, meeting their fiscal goal is a top priority.
These examples are just the tip of the iceberg relating to the complexities and challenges associated with aircraft deicing processes. There are now software solutions which specifically target aircraft deicing processes and address these challenges, with the goal of optimization.
How Optimization Software Supports Improved Deicing Processes
Today’s optimization software solutions supporting deicing processes are designed to improve communications between all stakeholders (i.e., airlines, ground handlers, the airport and air traffic control). These solutions create a level of transparency that is required to optimize deicing processes and outcomes. The software enables the real-time, proactive management of deicing requests, collaborative decision making and improved performance. The software is easily integrated with an airport’s Airport Collaborative Decision Making (A-CDM) system and its weather prediction system, as well as vehicle positional telemetry. Based on these systems’ data, the software predicts the number of scheduled departures and supports advanced workforce and equipment planning. It provides an opportunity to inform passengers in advance of potential flight delays or cancellations due to icing conditions.
Shortly after a pilot issues a deicing request (i.e. verbally via radio or automatically via the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, ACARS), it is reported to the A-CDM. In coordination with the system, the software automatically generates an estimated deicing start time. The deicing task is then automatically assigned to a deicing truck and displayed on its on-board computer. The truck is assigned in accordance with rule-based specifications relating to weather conditions, aircraft size, trucks capabilities, current GPS location, travel route, etc. and other service order requests. Mobile devices are used to give live feedback on the current state of work to dispatching controllers so that situational awareness is maximized. All data is transmitted and recorded in real-time via telematics. It is later used to generate reports, evaluate SLA compliance, verify services rendered, and for managing billing and complaints.
Applying optimization software to the deicing process delivers enhanced performance across key areas of operational awareness, collaborative decision making, automatic determination of tasks, automatic task assignments, web-based communications and performance monitoring:
- Operational awareness – Dispatchers are informed in real-time through continuously updated data relating to the status of all deicing activities and resource scheduling;
- Collaborative decision making – Airports, Airlines, service providers, airports and air traffic controllers benefit from improved and transparent decision making;
- Automatic determination of tasks – Deicing, icing checks and refill tasks are optimized through a foundation of accurate rule-based specifications for gate, remote and early deicing tasks, which take into account factors such as weather conditions, planned departure sequences, priorities, truck travel times and taxiing times to the remote deicing areas;
- Automatic task creation and electronic communication – with ACARS, pilots can directly enter deicing requests into the allocating system and don’t need to rely on busy deicing radio channels and their associated waiting times. In return, the system automatically sends a response, communicating the estimated deicing start time to the pilot.
Furthermore, if ice checks are performed and found positive, follow-up deicing tasks can be automatically generated without further need for manual requests.
- Automatic task assignments – The software supports employee scheduling, balancing fiscal and service quality goals, and facilitating the dispatcher’s optimum planning and control of large groups of employees;
- Web-based communication – Job-related activities are transmitted in real time to employees via their tablets and smart phones and also support employees’ online recording of work progress, including logging possible faults. Vehicle telemetry data facilitates the transmission of deicing process times and fluid consumption.
- Performance monitoring – By recording all process steps, evaluations can be performed and billing and complaints effectively managed.
Optimizing WISAG’s Deicing Operations
WISAG Aviation Service Holding GmbH (WISAG) is a German company based in Frankfurt which provides a comprehensive range of airport services. The company offers deicing services at the Berlin Tegel and Berlin Schönefeld airports. At Berlin Schönefeld, these services are integrated in the A-CDM process. Applying the INFORM software, WISAG uses the data obtained from the A-CDM to forecast the number of scheduled departures that may need deicing before an icing event occurs. The software helps the company to maintain optimized staff levels and vehicle counts, and to automatically determine start and end times for deicing jobs. Additionally, it maps the deicing vehicles’ best route to the aircraft.
WISAG Application Manager Kai Swiney has been working with INFORM’s solution for many years. He says, “A digital solution -- its optimization capabilities and the convergence of key factors from different data sources -- enables the real-time control of all typical work processes of deicing, as well as an optimized schedule for both staff and vehicles.” WISAG runs a fleet of Vestergaard deicing vehicles which are equipped with telematics units. These units consistently provide INFORM’s solution with real-time data tracking for fluid levels, vehicle positions and a job’s current status.
Mr. Swiney continues, “The planning, visualization and the correction of deicing sequences are a substantial advantage over the First Come First Serve Strategy.” Before the system was implemented, it was hardly possible to determine the priority of flights or deal with sudden changes in weather. Today, the system continuously updates deicing tasks and integrates them into the overall picture. This way, the best deicing solution is guaranteed at any time.”
Through the software’s agility and performance features, deicing can be significantly optimized with reduced manual effort, electronic communications are improved and automated, and resource utilization is optimized. An efficient ‘management by exception’ procedure is fully-supported as is collaborative decision making. The end result is a high level of transparency, which eliminates stress and prevents negative outcomes such as empty fluid tanks, delayed flights and paralyzed airport operations, all potentially leading to exposures relating to loss of contracts and lawsuits. Perhaps the most important motive for the aviation industry is fewer deicing delays and a reduction in negative impacts on passenger satisfaction, as well as the associated financial losses.
This article was originally published in the magazine Ground Handling International, October issue 2019.