ERA adds icing to list of ‘hot’ topics

 - October 25, 2006, 6:44 AM

What should operators do when they face the prospect of ice forming on aircraft and flying controls? The most obvious course of action–applying anti-icing fluid– might prove the worst, according to the European Regions Airline Association (ERA), which warns that, paradoxically, the use of thickened anti-icing fluid can lead to creation of a frozen gel that can affect all aircraft.

The organization has added the problem to a list of “hot” topics that face its member airlines. In an uncharacteristic plea for regulators to become more involved in operational issues, ERA officials have called for airworthiness authorities to work with industry to raise safety standards following “record numbers” of aircraft icing incidents last winter.

The problems can occur because, if not removed by the forces of takeoff or (beyond holdover time) physically, even a single application of fluid can dry to a powder that will hydrate into a gel when moistened and then freeze in low temperatures. Emphasizing that the sequence of events applies to all aircraft, whether or not they have powered controls, ERA technical services general manager Nick Mower points out that the thickened material remains on flying surfaces or seeps into control systems.

After freezing, the gel can add weight, freeze or stiffen flying controls, increase stick forces at takeoff, freeze jack screws or result in total loss of control. Mower said that the last European winter involved a long period of combined snow, ice and cold air, which resulted in repeated applications of fluid, followed by conditions of moist air and rain that led to previously unseen levels of icing occurrences.

The experience has led ERA to call for higher standards from the airline industry and the fluid manufacturers. It wants to see the Association of European Airlines amend its recommendations to operators, and regulators participate in efforts to review training materials and raise awareness.

Mower expressed concern that industry “seems to be the sole arbiter: regulators [are] one step behind!” He added that airworthiness authorities should work with airlines and become involved in fluid specifications, research and training, best-practice procedures and progress auditing.

After this coming winter, the ERA would like to arrange a “workshop” that would involve all interested parties, so that airlines, airports, service providers and fluid manufacturers all could present their experiences and challenges to regulators. Mower hopes that the exercise leads to an action plan for the 2006-07 winter.