Infrared Aircraft De-Icing

Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) prohibit takeoff when snow, ice, or frost is adhering to wings, propellers, control surfaces, engine outlets, and other critical surfaces of the aircraft. This rule forms the basis for the clean aircraft concept.

The clean aircraft concept is essential to safe flight operations. Common practice developed by the North American and European aviation communities is to deice and, if necessary to anti-ice an aircraft before takeoff. In most cases this is accomplished by the use of heated aqueous solutions of freezing point depressant (FPD) fluids for deicing, followed by anti-icing fluids which are thicker and have a lower freeze point. These anti-icing fluids provide a protective film on the aircraft surface, which delays the re-formation of ice, snow, or frost.

The FPD fluids are usually composed of ethylene and propylene glycol combined with water and other ingredients. The use of these chemical deicers is recognized by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as an effective safety procedure in air transportation.

The introduction of glycol runoff from deicing/anti-icing operations can impose a significant impact on adjacent water systems. Glycol contaminated storm water runoff can deplete dissolved oxygen levels and threaten aquatic life. Additionally, the deicing fluids contain corrosion and rust inhibitors that are considered toxic to biological systems.

The escalating environmental and economic cost of chemical deicers has prompted the development of alternative ways to deice aircraft. Process Technologies Inc.(PTI) has developed a gas fired radiant heat unit that is capable of melting ice/snow from the surfaces of an aircraft. The patented Energy Process Units (EPU) include a gas fired primary heat exchanger that is heated to 2,000 degrees F, and a secondary heat exchange surface which can be "focused" to match the absorption range of the intended receiver. Previous testing on aircraft components resulted in no observable degradation of materials.

In April 1995, (under the terms of a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement) the FAA’s instrumented Convair 580 was deiced with infrared energy inside a temporary "drive-thru" shelter at Buffalo, NY. PTI erected the structure, fabricated and installed 96 EPU’s, and conducted the tests in the presence of FAA personnel. Observable results show that the aircraft, with 3/16" ice coating was deiced in approximately 5 minutes. The test report for these activities is available from Process Technologies Inc.

A series of deicing demonstrations were conducted with the FAA’s Boeing 727 test aircraft in March 1996, within a larger "drive-thru" shelter that spanned Taxiway C1 at Greater Rochester International Airport. Deicing times ranged from 5 to 9 minutes depending on power settings. Hourly fuel cost was estimated at less than $100/hour. 

In April 1997, PTI and Prior Aviation, the FBO at Buffalo Airport, jointly designed, built, and operated the first infrared deicing facility. The FAA granted AIP/PFC funding eligibility for this type system in July 1997. Also in 1997, Congress earmarked $970,000 of FY98 F&E funding for the installation of an infrared deicing facility at Rhinelander, Wisconsin. This facility went "on-line" in February 1998.

Points of contact:

Contact Project Lead: Jim Patterson, AJP-6311

Last Update: 05/18/09