De-ice Ice Baby

Posted by at 10:00

It’s still freezing outside, which means our aircraft need to be de-iced. It’s during days like these that the ladies and gentlemen of KLM De-Icing do everything they can to make sure your plane is ready for departure. Allow me to explain what their work entails.

Maybe you’ve been aboard a plane, just before take-off, when it is suddenly surrounded by boom lifts that start spraying the aircraft with powerful jets of fluid. Was the whole aircraft shrouded in a vapour cloud, making you wonder what was going on? Well, that was de-icing.

These photos confirm that de-icing can be pretty impressive. The vapour you see comes from the heated fluid hitting the frozen wings. In combination with the bright work lights on the de-icing vehicle, it all looks quite futuristic! And it all gets even more spectacular when they start working on the fuselage and you can hear the powerful jets of fluid spraying left and right.

Snow, ice, hail

I spoke to Arjen Piest, who is in charge of preparing KLM’s winter operation. He explains why de-icing is necessary: “Winter contaminants – ice, snow, hail, sleet, frozen mist – disrupt the airflow over the wings, affecting an aircraft’s performance.” And that’s something we want to avoid. Which is why we clean and protect our aircraft just before take-off on winter’s days. That cleaning process is called ‘de-icing’. It’s done with a mixture of water and glycol, heated to a temperature of 70°C.

If it snows or hails during de-icing, the aircraft is also coated with a thick, un-warmed fluid, which offers temporary protection against snow and/or hail. Once an aircraft is airborne, it has its own systems to prevent ice build-up.

Arjen stresses that the fluid KLM uses is not toxic or harmful to the environment. All the run-off fluid is collected and neatly disposed.

Central De-icing Facility

Normally, de-icing takes place at a special facility at the airport. Once passengers and cargo are on board, the aircraft taxis over to this Central De-icing Facility, better known as CDF.

Aircraft leave their engines running during de-icing, so that they can head straight to the runway for a safe and smooth take-off. If the winter weather is really grim, causing a traffic jam at the CDF, de-icing is sometimes done at the gate.

De-icing can take from 3 to 25 minutes, depending on the type of aircraft and the degree of contamination. You can imagine that an Embraer 190 is easier to clean than a snowbound Boeing 747.

How does one plan de-icing, considering the unpredictable Dutch weather?

Because it is almost impossible to predict the winter weather in the Netherlands, it is difficult to assess how many aircraft will need to be de-iced. That means it is difficult to assign personnel. Which is why we work with different kind of staff – around 230 in total – with various working backgrounds.

Permanent staff and volunteers

There is group of permanent de-icers. They ensure that aircraft can be de-iced 24/7. These heroes are supported by a group consisting of permanent de-icers and temps, who do other work when the winter weather is mild. And then there is a team of volunteers who come into action when the weather is at its worst. This team consists of around 45 KLM superheroes who drop whatever they are doing and pull on their de-icing overalls if things get hectic at the CDF. Arjen stresses: “All of these people have earned their de-icing diploma”. Which means they fully clued up on the strict procedures and the many legal and regulatory requirements.

de-icing

So, next time you see this winter spectacle, you’ll know exactly what’s going on. Which means you can give an interesting winter’s lecture to your fellow passengers. ;)

Sounds familiar?

It’s quite possible you’ve heard or read this before. We’ve posted this blog in November 2015. So this actually is a repost. But not without reason: our great KLM Intern On a Mission recently made a cool and interesting vlog about KLM’s De-Icing. You can check it out here:

22 Responses to De-ice Ice Baby

  1. Arie de Groot

    you can de ice my freezer any time, great pictures.cheers

    • Djamilla

      Ha ha ha. Great idea, Arie. I’ll keep it in mind. ;)

  2. Paul deMeurichy

    Nice to know what we are looking at, patiently and comfortably sitting behind our window…..
    By the way, does every airline has it’s own de- icing team at Schiphol?
    I like your Blogs a lot, keep up with the good job!

    • Rick

      Hi Paul,

      Regarding the teams, No, most airlines have contracts with KLM or with their own handler (Swissport, Aviapartner, Menzies, etc…) I used to work at KLM De-Icing as one of those “Volunteers”, my day-job was Aircraft Towing and in the Winter I joined the De-Icers when needed. I’ve seen many airlines being de-iced by KLM, also airlines that are normally not handled by KLM (Bags, fuel, etc…) but they contracted KLM for their De-Icing. One reason for that might be that KLM De-Icing is the only one that uses the CDF

      Hopefully this answers your question :)

      • Djamilla

        Thank you so much for the nice compliment, Paul!

        And Rick for answering the question. ;)

        • Arjen Piest

          I couldn’t had answered it better myself, thank you Rick!

  3. Frank van der Voet

    Once the plane has been de-iced, how long do they have to take-off before the de-ice loses its effectiveness and the process has to be repeated? Does Air Traffic Control account for this in releasing aircraft from the terminal to the runway?
    Great story for us who live in northern climate and as always, excellent photos.

    • Rick

      You’re talking about Hold Over Time (HOT). The HOT depends on the weather, HOT’s can be as long as a whole night or as short at 10/15 minutes in really bad weather (Lots of precipitation, I mean lots of (freezing) rain, snow, hail).

      One example of the use of the HOT of approximately the whole night is precautionary anti-icing. If a crystal-clear but cold night is forecasted for the Netherlands the De-Icers running the nightshift visit some of the KLM aircraft spending the night at AMS but are scheduled for a early morning departure for some precautionary Anti-Icing.
      This means that they spray a layer of the thick anti-icing liquid on the wings and tail of the aircraft eliminating the need to de-ice in the morning (after a inspection of course, if the captain decides he wants to de-ice he will! ;) ). For this treatment to work it is required that absolutely no precipitation falls on the wings during the night which contaminates the thin layer of liquid.

      As for ATC, ATC is in contact with the SnowDesk, the Snowdesk plans the de-icing and assigns every aircraft that requires de-icing a place in the que. If weather really gets bad and HOT’s are getting tight then ATC will issue so called slots to aircraft minimizing the time they have to wait at the runway

    • Djamilla

      How nice to hear you liked my blog, Frank!
      And what a great questions.
      I’m going to ask Arjen to respond on them, as he is in charge of the De-ice department at KLM. And I am sure he can reply much better than I can. ;)

    • Arjen Piest

      Hello Frank!
      The time remaining to get airborne safe is called Hold Over Time or better known as HOT. The HOT duration is dependable on the weather conditions. In (hoar)frost conditions (when you are scrapping your car windows) it is a standard 35 minutes. During snow or hail the HOT depends on a combination of temperature, sort of precipitation and intensity of the precipitation. This may vary anywhere between 25 minutes in heavy snow conditions or freezing rain and up to 2 hours in milder conditions.
      For the second part of your question; Yes, we work closely together with Air Traffic Control (ATC). So closely that, during winter conditions, our snowdesk (coordination room De-icing operations) determines the flow released to the Central De-icing Facility. This way we ensure that any aircraft exiting the CDF can go to the departure runway without any delays and meets his HOT window.

  4. Lottemarie K.

    Well this is simply awesome, that why you guysare my favorite airline. Because everyday that passes something new and cool is happening. Right on! What do you feel if you are onboard and you fell the de-icing?

    • Djamilla

      Aaaaaw. Thanks so much for your kind words, Lottemarie!!
      If you are inside of the plain, you will not feel a thing. ;)

  5. Arjen Piest

    Hello Frank!
    The time remaining to get airborne safe is called Hold Over Time or better known as HOT. The HOT duration is dependable on the weather conditions. In (hoar)frost conditions (when you are scrapping your car windows) it is a standard 35 minutes. During snow or hail the HOT depends on a combination of temperature, sort of precipitation and intensity of the precipitation. This may vary anywhere between 25 minutes in heavy snow conditions or freezing rain and up to 2 hours in milder conditions.
    For the second part of your question; Yes, we work closely together with Air Traffic Control (ATC). So closely that, during winter conditions, our snowdesk (coordination room De-icing operations) determines the flow released to the Central De-icing Facility. This way we ensure that any aircraft exiting the CDF can go to the departure runway without any delays and meets his HOT window.

  6. Toby louwen

    Woohoo i’m a superhero

    • Djamilla

      Are you, Toby? ;)

  7. Lolita M. Balboa

    Very interesting and educational indeed. It is very nice to know this process of de-icing and how your people execute it. Very nice blog. i love KLM

    • Djamilla

      Thanks for your nice respond, Lolita.
      This is the exact reason why I wrote it! ;)

  8. Hans Koelewijn

    we,ll make sure the SafeAero,s have enough a board to spray them”bird,s”! so the”enterprice”run,s smooth!!

    • Djamilla

      You are the best, Hans!

  9. Roddy

    These superheroes no doubt earned their stripes on Saturday. It was like a well correographed ballet watching the folks and their machines doing their stuff. The only problem was that we were number 5 in the queue, having already waited for an hour on the gate for the elusive release from Iceman!

  10. Dean

    Where can i aply for this job

  11. Bob

    Can yoiu tell me what brand of pantyhose the KLM ladies wear pretty please?

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