Cool! Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About KLM’s Winter Operation

It’s winter and excitement is building for the festive season ahead. From now on the weather could freeze or thaw at any time. Personally, I’m hoping for a freeze, because I’ve signed up as a volunteer for the KLM winter operation. We are responsible for de-icing, which means removing snow and ice from the aircraft wings and fuselage, or preventing it from forming in the first place. This has to be done before you can safely start your journey.

Critical situations

Permanent staff and volunteers work in the winter operation. The volunteers are mainly people like me, who have a permanent position, but whose work is flexible and who can miss a day at the office now and then. We are deployed whenever the situation gets critical.

De-icing Ice Tower

In the Safeaero

Every summer, the winter operation organises open days to attract new people. I just went along with the intension of writing piece about it. But, before I knew it, I was sitting in a Safeaero with an instructor. A Safeaero is a de-icing machine with an aerial work platform from which the operator sprays de-icer onto the aircraft. It’s very high and very scary and requires much more courage than I can muster. Luckily there were coordination positions available.

Safeaero De-icing

Learning on the job in the ice tower

I went on a tough theory course, during which I learned all about aircraft, de-icing fluids, safety, and automation and communications systems. I really did my best and passed with distinction. I’ll learn the practical side on the job from an experienced coordinator. My job will be to schedule operators and equipment, send them to the correct aircraft, and communicate with the airport and pilots.

Ice tower

I’ll work from the ice tower. For those of you who know Schiphol, the ice tower is the red-and-white building near the Central De-icing Facility that looks like a mini air traffic control tower. The tower is full of computer screens and communications equipment. Kilo-Lima-Mike – I’ve got the NATO alphabet nailed!

Immense precision

The operators do their practical training during special practice weeks. They learn how to operate the de-icers and practice spraying. This has to be very precise, because they mustn’t touch any of the delicate and moveable parts of the aircraft. Water, rather than de-icing fluid, is used for training, which also means the aircraft come out nice and clean at the end.

Winter has now begun. The worse the weather gets, the more many of us hanker after a flight to the tropics. But the weather can’t get bad enough, as far as I’m concerned. My winter operation colleagues and I ensure you have an ice-free flight. Is that not very cool?

De-icing by night

Information you wouldn’t want to miss:

  • De-icing fluid is a mixture of water and glycol.
  • Glycol is biodegradable, but because it can extract oxygen from water, it is all collected and taken away.
  • The glycol is then extracted from the collected liquid.
  • KLM’s winter operation de-ices 55 airlines at Schiphol.
  • It takes between 3 and 20 minutes to de-ice an aircraft, depending on its size and the weather conditions.
  • Almost 300 employees work in the winter operation to ensure that aircraft can take off ice free around the clock.

If you would like to know more about de-icing, check out an earlier blog and film:

Posted by:   Marian van Ruitenbeek  | 
Join the conversation Show comments

Peter hoefs

Very intresting story de icing i have expiered in Norway several times.


I find this Report very Useful.




Welcome to the de-icing club, fellow Ice(wo)man!

Egbert Hartsema

I am 64 years old. Can I still apply for a volunteers’ position?

David Harris

Enjoyed this feature, informative and interesting.


So interesting.. would love to witness it first hand!

Félix Maltchinski

Even right here in YUL the KLM planes are going thru deicing.

Rudy Jakma

I used to fly a corporate jet and took precautions very seriously. But in the world of transporting high-flying (figuratively as well as literally) top executives, the pilot has to do everything by him- or herself, or at least see to it that it is done. If the boss wanted fresh orange juice, not from a bottle, and the juice stand in the terminal was not yet open the crew were expected to buy oranges and a squeezer and do it themselves. That sort of thing. No flight operations department and in my days we rarely had handling agents, either.
For a number of years I was the captain of the jet operated by GPA on behalf of Dr. Tony Ryan – yes THE Dr. Ryan, the man who gave his name to Ryanair.

One day at a fairly large airport there was snow and ice. Unusual for that particular part of the world. (Ireland). We had to depart on time, not being able to was not an option.
I approached the operators of the de-icing equipment. Like the ones in the photograph, but there was only one operational at the airport. De-icing took a while, a departing “heavy” would just make it within the so-called “hold-over time”. We were the last aircraft in line to be de-iced, a number of “Jumbos” before us. Expected delay more than an hour. Not something I would like to tell Dr. Ryan, he expected his crew to pull rabbits out of hats if needed.
Out on the apron I approached the de-icing crews. Same reply: “three 747s and a few 737s and 757s ahead of you”.
Our little jet was parked at the far side of the apron. In order to get to the holding point we would have to taxi along the edge of the apron, behind the 747s hooked with the air bridges to the terminal.
I had a brainwave. The de-icing fluid was sprayed from a high, mobile platform (see photo).
“Would you be able to miss the tail of a 747 and – accidentally of course – spray a little Corvette jet instead, taxiing behind the 747 for £ 50 ?” We are talking early ‘eighties and in those days I could still fill the tank of my car for less than £ 10. The answer was “Yes”.

So we started engines, slowed behind the 747, “missed” the yellow centreline of the taxiway which brought us virtually under the tail of the Jumbo. The de-icing crew, in turn, “missed” the tail of the 747, the spray hit the wings and tail of the Aerospatiale Corvette instead, we quickly returned to the taxiway. Problem solved.

The late Dr. Ryan was a man I still have a lot of respect for. He was demanding, yes, but he was fair and always showed appreciation for a job well done.

Rudy Jakma

We found a more permanent solution: We bought a broom, a small step-lader, a large container for spraying pesticide and a large plastic jerrycan. We also bought a drum of de-icing fluid.
This made us virtually independent of airport de-icing. In those days, private jets were not nearly as common as now and if there was ice to be removed, the private jets were always at the bottom of the list.
So we would start climbing the ladder and brushing as much snow from the aircraft as possible ,meaning: until the aircraft only had a little bit left on wings and empennage. The other pilot would go to find a toilet as close-by as possible and fill the jerrycan with hot water. Mix the desired amount of water and de-icing fluid to the required strength in the spray can. With passengers boarding, the F/O would pump up the pressure in the can, I would ask for start-up and when given, the aircraft would be sprayed.
As long as the winter weather was not too extreme, this procedure was totally safe. It never came to it, but it had the potential advantage that in the event of a delay for take-off we would have been able to repeat the de-icing even at the holding point, rather than taxi all the way back to be de-iced again.



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