Technology is always at the forefront of an efficient deicing operation, and at Northeast Air, we’ve invested significantly in leading-edge equipment to help us run our deicing program. In our last post, we mentioned several new technologies that put us above most deicing operations at airports in the same size category as Portland International Jetport. Now, we’ll dive deeper into what each piece of tech does and how it helps keep you—and the environment—safe.

AirFirst and AirPlus Deicing Systems

The AirFirst System (we also use AirPlus, a similar system under a different brand name) for deicing trucks was a revolutionary development that has changed the way Northeast Air operates in the winter. A combination of enclosed operator buckets and air infused deicing fluid, the AirFirst system decreases glycol usage while making deicing operations more efficient and safer for the aircraft.

The benefits of the AirFirst equipped deicing trucks can be broken down into three categories.

Enclosed cabin (comfort and accuracy)

The enclosed bucket cabins of the deicing trucks gave our spray operators a new advantage: they could now stay warm and focused in even the most demanding winter conditions. Cold, wind, snow, and fluid sprayback was all but eliminated by the enclosed cabin. This feature came with an increase in efficiency and accuracy during deicing events from our bucket operators. Plus, no more frozen fingers!

Turret mounted nozzles (accuracy and efficiency)

The fluid and air nozzles on the spray buckets are turret mounted, meaning that they can be aimed and fired with amazing accuracy. In very cold conditions, the hot water and deicing fluid being sprayed requires the operator to be within only a few feet of the aircraft, or the heat will quickly dissipate, leading to frozen fluid on the plane. The turret mounted nozzles allow the operators to get within 5 feet of the aircraft and direct a high powered stream exactly where needed at all times. Combined with the air/glycol blend, efficiency in both time to spray and use of deicing fluid skyrocketed almost immediately.

Air and fluid nozzles (efficiency and environmental impact)

Efficiency is a common thread when it comes to the AirFirst and AirPlus systems. By having several different nozzles on the deicing bucket, operators could now use the appropriate air or fluid combination to clear a plane. When there is snow on the plane, for example, operators start off by directing a high powered air nozzle to blow snow from the surfaces.

Then they’ll switch over to Type 1 fluid, a blend of liquid glycol and water. Type 1 helps melt any residual ice or snow on aircraft surfaces. Hundreds of gallons of this glycol/water blend could be used for just one aircraft, depending on weather conditions. Once the plane is clear of any debris, the operators will begin spraying Type 4 deicing fluid. This blend is a higher concentration of chemicals that helps prevent refreezing on the aircraft as it taxis to the runway for takeoff.

All these fluids and air/water blends get applied from a single bucket with three nozzles mounted on a turret for accuracy. The combination of air, water, and deicing fluid helps to ensure that the minimum amount of runoff lands on the deicing pad. When a plane is cleared, our deicing fluid collection partners collect the fluid through a series of drains and tanks to be reclaimed and recycled.

Glycol Pro Junior Blending Unit

A big advancement for Northeast Air’s deicing program was the acquisition of the Glycol Pro Junior Blending Unit. Deicing fluid is no longer just pure glycol. Developments in deicing technology—along with federal requirements for lowered glycol usage—pushed deicing teams to use a blend of glycol and heated water. Various ratios are used depending on weather, based entirely on the ambient temperature.

The Glycol Pro Junior blending unit allows our techs very precise control over the mix of glycol and water, and that mix is always based on an 18℉ buffer. Throughout the day, temperatures can fluctuate, so the Glycol Pro Junior unit can mix to various ratios based on the ambient temp, all within that 18℉ buffer zone.

Information is Key

To better keep track of the entire system, Deicing Manager Scott Rolfe, along with NEA IT Manager Krisitan Jones, developed a tracking database for the Deicing Team. Now, Team members could capture information about spray times, fluid usage, and treatment differences from aircraft to aircraft.

The database measures 46 data points, allowing us to evaluate the effectiveness of our deicing operation. From which sprayer operators are doing well to what events are slowing things down, the database gives us a detailed picture of how our operation is doing and where we can make improvements. The database also shows us which planes are taking longer than others and why, and which deicing trucks are being used or not, and why. These are all key elements in running an efficient, cost effective, and environmentally responsible deicing operation at a very active airport.

All operational tracking used to be done with handwritten tickets, with drivers and operators spending a large amount of time filling out paperwork. Today, we can consult with our database and send reports to airlines, customers, owners, and the Jetport with all the relevant information they need to know.

Driven by Concern

The upgrade to all this leading edge technology was truly driven by a concern for the environment and a push to ensure safety and efficiency. An investment this big has to come from a place of concern. By getting ahead of the game, we were able to save the company and our customers money, build a solid reputation, and play our part in preserving Portland’s valuable natural environmental resources.

Now that we’ve talked about what our deicing operation looks like, the history of deicing at NEA , and the technology that makes it all happen, we’ll wrap up this series with one of the most important elements of all: the NEA Deicing Team Members.