Melbourne Airport and de-icing in cold weather

Earlier this week the temperature in Victoria plummeted, with a low of -0.6C being recorded at Melbourne Airport on Monday 20 July. The result – aircraft being covered with ice, and major flight delays due to trouble removing it. So what made the ice so hard to move?

Waiting at the gate, Qatar Airways A321-231 rego A7-AIA

Aircraft de-icing is pretty simple – airports located in places much colder than Australia have the process down pat.

Applying de-icing fluid to the wings of our jet

But back in sunny Australia ice and snow isn’t something we encounter in urban areas, so Qantas ran into some trouble getting their planes ready to fly, as this Herald Sun article illustrates:

Perth-bound Qantas passengers were stranded at Melbourne Airport for four hours as the airline struggled to remove ice from its planes after its “de-icing truck” malfunctioned.

The airline said at 7.30am that freezing conditions had caused ice to build up on aircraft wings, delaying nine flights for up to 40 minutes.

An icy low -0.6C was recorded at Melbourne Airport at 6.30am, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

But the apparent temperature — taking into account wind and humidity — dropped to as low as -5.1C at 3.30am.

Qantas said there had been “issues with the de-icing truck”, but would not elaborate on the problem.

Passengers booked on the airline’s 6.30am flight QF774 to Perth told the Herald Sun were stuck in Melbourne until about 11.30am as the airline worked to remove ice from an aircraft.

Melbourne man Jamie Lingham, who flies to WA weekly for work, said he had been told by Qantas that the truck used to remove ice from planes had broken down.

“They said they wouldn’t be able to hose off the ice, because it would just freeze,” he said.

“And the specialist truck used to remove ice is broken as well.”

Mr Lingham said Qantas attendants told him just before 10.30am that extra fuel had been pumped through the aircraft’s wings to try and get rid of the ice build-up. But this had caused the plane to become too heavy.

“Now the aircraft is overweight and they’re asking for 45 volunteers to wait and fly this afternoon or tomorrow,” he said.

I stumbled upon Qantas’ de-icing truck back in 2012, parked beneath terminal 1.

De-icing truck operated by Qantas - it doesn't see much use...

With the lack of ice in Melbourne I can see why it doesn’t see much use, but given how critical a de-icing truck is in bad weather, a little proactive maintenance can’t hurt.

Footnote

Apparently Qantas acquired their de-icing unit back in 2006:

After many years of winter icing delays and from QF Mel engineering there is finally a de-icing unit in Mel, but only after a six months plus capital expenditure approval process from boffinsville in Syd.

Melbourne Airport has their de-icing policy online – note the concerns about run off into the environment:

Melbourne Airport has an extensive network of storm water drains that discharge directly into the surrounding water catchments of Moonee Ponds Creek, Deep Creek, Arundel Creek and Steele Creek.

Melbourne Airport is empowered to maintain environmental (disposal of waste) standards under the Airports (Environmental Protection) Regulations 1997 and the Environment Protection Act 1970.

Airline carriers / ground handlers will be required to develop an appropriate de-icing procedure that provides for minimal use of glycol-based de-icing products.

The procedures must provide for the protection of the storm water system through bundling, or some other form of containment, as well as a mechanism such as vacuuming to collect the effluent and clean the bay at the completion of the de-icing process.

Airports that ice up on a regular basis avoid this problem by installing special bays to de-ice aircraft and collect any runoff.

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2 Responses to “Melbourne Airport and de-icing in cold weather”

  1. Andrew says:

    Somewhere in the US I saw a yard full of de-icing trucks, perhaps twenty of them. Ice must be a huge problem there and perhaps dealt with on a daily basis over winter.

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