De-icing crews keep planes moving in winter weather

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CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (WIVB) – Even an inch or so of snow can really disrupt things at some of the mid-Atlantic airports expecting to be hit by Winter Storm Jonas, but at Buffalo Niagara International, winter weather is a fact of life. De-icing crews stay busy this time of year here, making sure the planes can continue to take off.

William Vanecek, Director of Aviation for NFTA, says even though there will likely be a ripple effect from winter weather hitting elsewhere this week,  the crews here can handle what we get. “We’re good to go,” he said. “We have a tremendous track record of keeping our airport open and we continue to do that, so the problem won’t be generated here, it will be generated on the east coast.”

For all de-icing operations, the pilots make the call about when it should be done and what those efforts should entail. There are two third-party companies at BNIA that tackle the jobs.

Those crews use large hoses to spray a chemical called propylene glycol all over the planes, focusing especially on the front of the wings and tails, to make sure the ice, snow, and frost doesn’t prevent the planes from getting the lift they need to get off the ground.

During the 2014-2015 winter season, 277,000 gallons of glycol were used at BNIA for all planes, including the cargo aircraft. Vanecek says propylene glycol, which is what is used at the Buffalo airport, is better for the environment than ethalene gylcol, the main ingredient in antifreeze, which is also sometimes used as an airplane de-icer.

The crews at BNIA make quick work of the de-icing job, with plenty of experience thanks to our typical winter weather. The crews at some of the airports that will likely be hit by the coming winter storm may not be quite so in practice. “We’re probably seven days a week generally speaking in January for the most part, and they’re not. They may do it once every couple of weeks or once every three or four weeks. So there is a little bit of slight disruption on that, but generally speaking at most airports, they’re professionals that are taking care of aircraft, know what they’re doing,” Vanecek said. “They’re creating a safe environment for the travelers which is first and foremost. So if it takes a little bit longer, it’s well worth the wait.”

Vanecek says de-icing processes can sometimes lead to flight delays, but he explains that the airlines try to build some buffer time in their schedules to minimize disruptions.

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