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Aviation Grade Winter; How to keep runways and aeroplanes safe in freezing conditions

A view from a passenger jet of an icy runway

De-icing and anti-icing fluids play a critical role in providing safe, uninterrupted and timely air travel during winter weather.

Planes need to contend with sub-zero temperatures as they soar where ice and snow quickly build up on an aircraft, decreasing lift by disrupting airflow around crucial parts of the aircraft, which can lead to disastrous results.

Visibility from windows also needs to be crystal-clear. As such, all aircraft must comply with the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) “Clean Aircraft Concept,” which prohibits take-off with frost, ice, or snow stuck to critical surfaces of an airplane.

As such, de-icing and anti-icing fluids are regulated and monitored on a global basis. They all have to undergo stringent testing.

This long approval process ensures that all products comply with all international safety standards. When it comes to air safety, nothing is left to chance.

Runway safety during wintery conditions

Then of course you have the safety conditions on the runways to consider. It goes without saying that these must be absolutely safe before any take-off or landing can be attempted.

Although planes can fly quite safely in a variety of weather conditions, take-off is one of those things that can be delayed by heavy snow.

This is especially true in the UK, where roads and runways aren’t built for extreme weather. And it seems that any fluctuation from our usual temperate climate brings travel chaos.

Methods for safe take-off and landing

Typically, an aircraft is sprayed with a Type I de-icing fluid, which provides for immediate and temporary removal of any accumulated snow or ice.

After Type I is applied, the aircraft can then be sprayed with a Type IV anti-icing fluid to prevent re-accumulation of precipitation before take-off.

Aviation v. Road De-icers; what’s the difference?

There are a few key differences to note between standard and aviation grade de-icers.

Most people are likely familiar with solid chemical de-icers that are used on pavements or on the road networks.

To comply with safety standards aviation grade de-icer has to be a lot stronger. They are much harder-working products than your typical road de-icer.

However, making such a safe and effective product brings with it several problems. One of these of particular concern, in this day and age, is the environmental impact of these chemicals.

Run-off from airport de-icers have been found to contaminate nearby streams and many of them are highly toxic to animals and plant life.

Another issue to consider is that chloride salts – widely used to de-ice roads – are prohibited for use on aircraft because they can be corrosive. For fairly obvious reasons.

De-icer performance is measured by holdover time, which is the length of time an aircraft can wait after being treated prior to take-off.

For Type I fluids, the holdover time is only about five to 15 minutes, so the aircraft has to take off right away or else wait to be de-iced again.

When a longer holdover time is needed, a two-step process is used in which de-icing is followed by treatment with an anti-icing fluid.

De-icing Procedures

Aircraft Ground De/Anti Icing procedures serve three purposes:

1. Removal of any frozen or semi frozen moisture from critical external surfaces of an aircraft on the ground prior to flight;
2. Protection of those surfaces from the effects of such contaminant for the period between treatment and becoming airborne;
3. Removal of any frozen or semi frozen moisture from engine intakes and fan blades and protection of external surfaces from subsequent contamination prior to takeoff.

When de-icing an aeroplane then, there should be at least two steps. Application of an external de-icer followed by an anti-icer to protect surfaces after take-off.

This is alongside standard engine checks to clear turbines of any ice crystals that may have set inside.
How to tell your de-icer is safe for aviation

Obviously, you can’t just go down to your local garage and pick up a bottle or two of de-icer and a bit of gritting salt.

Instead you should carefully research the right products, making sure that they are FAA approved.

You should also take care to choose the most environmentally friendly ones. For example, consider the environmental ramifications of using things like highly concentrated glycols on mammalian and aquatic wildlife in your local environment.

But above all things, without short cuts or excuses, you must be uncompromising with safety standards.

About Chela and aviation de-icing

For all aviation standard liquid de-icers, Chela designs and manufactures everything you need.

These products are designed to help the transport industry survive even the worst weather conditions.

This includes fully aviation approved products, which comply with AMS 1435a aviation standards.

Chela aviation grade de-icing products

IceBlast SF

IceBlast SF is environmentally safe, high performance anti-icing and de-icing solid for runways and taxiways. Additionally, it finds uses for other specialist de-icing applications e.g. road bridge de-icing.

IceBlast SF is a solid sodium formate based de-icer and anti-icer. It contains no glycols, urea or triazoles. It is formulated with corrosion inhibitors and conforms to material compatibility tests according to AMS 1431.

Konsin Eco

An aqueous solution of potassium acetate that is an efficient anti-ice as well as quickly melting ice and snow. IceBlast Plus works down to -37°C (salt works down to -7°C) and conforms to AMS 1435C aerospace material specification for fluid de-icers.

For use in airports on runways and aprons and stations, on bridges, car parks, pavement, roads and other public areas.

Clearway 6s

A flagship product with unrivalled de-icing properties. Clearway 6s is industry-leading and widely used throughout the UK aviation industry.

The Clearway Range leads the way in combining exceptional de-icing performance while retaining all important positive environmental qualities.

Aviation approved non-corrosive de-icer/anti-icergranule – Tested to AMS 1435a. It is suitable for 99% of substrates and commonly used on rail platforms, track and all passenger walkways.

Clearway can even be applied in close proximity to water run-offs as its low BOD qualities makes it non-hazardous to aquatic life.

Clearway 3

Aviation approved non-corrosive de-icer/anti-icer liquid – Tested to AMS 1435a

Suitable for 99% of substrates and commonly used on rail platforms, track and all passenger walkways, Clearway can even be applied in close proximity to water run-offs as its low BOD qualities makes it non-hazardous to aquatic life.


A dedicated winterization strategy is essential when it comes to winter aviation. If you’re looking for further advice on working with safe, efficient and environmentally friendly aviation grade winterisation products, get in touch. We will be happy to discuss your requirements.

To find out more about us you can read some of our cleaning case studies and discover why we are one of the UK’s leading suppliers of intelligent cleaning solutions for the most demanding applications in transport, construction, military and industrial.

Image by Paul Heaberlin (used under Creative Commons license)