What it takes to de-ice a plane during cold weather

The cold winter weather isn’t very welcome for a whole host of reasons, but when you’re trying to start your journey but spending all of your time de-icing your car, it can be extra frustrating.

So imagine having an entire plane to de-ice, while adhering to a strict timetable to try and avoid any disruption to thousands’ of passengers journeys.

That’s exactly what airlines face during cold snaps and snowy weather – but how exactly do you go about de-icing a plane?

Well now Menzies Aviation, which claims to be the largest provider of aircraft de-icing services, has shed some light on the process and it’s pretty fascinating.

The company has shared images as it de-iced a Norwegian plane, offering a glimpse into just what it takes to get the job done.


How exactly does it work?

It can take hundreds of litres of de-icing fluid


Essentially, they have to spray de-icing fluid over the entire plane, and it’s no small feat.

The company has to use specialist de-icing rigs (in this case, the Vestergaard Elephant Betas), which are used to spray the fluid.

It takes approximately 200 litres of the fluid – that’s around 44 gallons.

The team starts from the leading to trailing edge of each wing, and from the highest to lowest points of the aircraft, in order to complete the process properly and safely.

Snow and ice can affect a plane’s lift

The power of the spray is combined with the heated fluid (made of a powerful anti-freezing agent, water and a variety of additives), to clear ice and snow from every surface.

A layer of anti-icing protection is then applied to all critical surfaces.

Last winter (2017/2018), they estimate that they sprayed over SEVEN MILLION litres of de-icing fluid on over 50,000 planes.

Excess fluid is collected after spraying to be decontaminated, recycled, and disposed of in a safe manner.

A Norwegian plane being de-iced


Why does the whole plane need to be de-iced?

It’s an important procedure, as any level of snow and ice can potentially impact flight safety because it interrupts air flow over the wing. In fact, as little as 3-5mm of ice can reduce a plane’s lift by 30 per cent.

How long does it take?

The average short-haul aircraft typically takes 10 minutes or less to de-ice with two rigs.

However, on days of heavy snow this can go up to half an hour. (In extreme weather, multiple rigs can be used to speed up the process).

Larger planes can require up to 1,000 litres of de-icing fluid

As for long-haul? For the likes of a Boeing 747, it can take up to 6 de-icing rigs which spray between 800 and 1,000 litres of fluid.

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