Pilots speak out on how they tackle winter’s woes

 - January 30, 2007, 10:45 AM

Much has been written lately about the potential cost of not de-icing a business airplane before attempting to fly it, so we posed the question recently in our AINalerts twice-weekly electronic news bulletin, “What about the cost of de-icing? The price seems to vary wildly. What is the most you have paid to have a business jet de-iced? What type of airplane was it, which facility de-iced it, and what were the circumstances?”

We received a large number of responses, including a couple that went something like this: “Why would you even ask such a question? If an airplane needs de-icing, it needs de-icing, period, whatever the cost.” Well, that was actually the foundation of our point. When a supplier (the outfit with the glycol rig) has something in demand and in limited supply (“I want my airplane de-iced now”), all bets are off on what price a good glycol dousing might command on a busy, nasty winter’s day or night, and we were curious to see what some dialog on the subject might reveal. The “right” answer (if brief and to the point) was this one from a corporate aircraft operator in the Northeast: “We de-ice if there is any question. The cost is inconsequential compared with the aggregate annual cost of operation.”

Dave Hurley, vice chairman of Privat-Air, recalled that the most he has paid was $4,675, $2,160 and $2,040 for a BAC 111, Gulfstream III and Challenger 601, respectively, at New York La Guardia Airport. “That was Type I de-ice fluid, plus a coat of Type IV. The price per gallon for Type I is usually between $15 and $20, and for Type IV between $18 and $23. Typically, 100 to 300 gallons of Type I cleans the wetted areas, and then 50 to 100 gallons of Type IV is good insurance if conditions prevail for taxi.”

A Citation 650 operator remembered paying $750 initially at Tulsa International Airport (TUL), “until we contested the billing and it came down to $325. The TUL de-ice facility was on the northeast side of Runway 18R/36L. We landed and arrived at one of the TUL FBOs at 1345. ATIS reported airport closure at 1400. We were to be on the ground approximately 30 minutes to pick up pax and get under way. There was medium to heavy snowfall, with an OAT of 30 to 31 degrees, and TUL opened each half hour, with snow plowing during the other half hour. The taxiways were all contaminated. Holdover time for the fluid mix was approximately 15 minutes. The pax showed early, as always, and we had to taxi over to the de-ice area. When we finished the de-ice it was 1420, and we were number two for takeoff at 1433. The plan came together for us. One more comment: Don’t do business with those who have no money. If your owner is too cheap, have a backup credit card to charge a de-icing and–hard to do sometimes–find another job.”

We heard from one pilot who, faced with an owner’s reluctance to de-ice, dug in his heels and insisted. “It was February 2001 at Berlin Tempelhof Airport in Germany, and icing was forecast for the night before our planned departure. We had the option to hangar the aircraft [a Challenger 601-3R] for DM800 ($400 at the time) but the owner declined.” Sure enough, the next morning the pilot took one look at the
aircraft and declared that he would not depart in it in its present condition.

“The owner very reluctantly agreed to have it de-iced, but only the wing leading edges and the windshields.

“Some discussion ensued with the Tempelhof ground personnel, and they made it clear that to relieve them of any liability they had to de-ice the airplane completely or not at all. The owner argued with them for some time. I put my foot down and said I would not fly the airplane in its current condition. Eventually the owner paid DM1,500 ($750 then) for a full de-ice.”A night in the hangar would have cost half as much and kept the airplane frost-free. The pilot quit after that trip.

A pilot who once worked for a New York-based Part 135 operator recalled paying $10,000 to have a Gulfstream V de-iced at Signature at Logan International (BOS) in December 2002 or January 2003. “Several inches of heavy snow had accumulated overnight, but certainly not enough to warrant a bill for $10K. We protested loudly. I believe the de-icing service offered at various FBOs around the country is conducted with the mindset ‘Get as much as you can whenever you can.’

“I can also see how the cost of de-icing would put crews under a lot of pressure from their management or the charter client to de-ice only when absolutely necessary. The pilot or charter company usually ends up having to defend the necessity and cost of de-icing, but as soon as there is an incident, all those not associated with it tend to act as if there has never been a pilot who ever felt pressure not to de-ice or who ever had to defend his decision to de-ice.

“De-icing is like fuel. If you need it, you need it.”

De-icing on the Web
Walter Randa, president of Leading Edge, predicted that our question would pry loose “some good stories about de-icing” and then promptly launched into a fine one himself.

“The most de-icing fluid I have seen applied to an aircraft (it was not a business jet) was during a major ice storm that hit the Northeast and parts of Quebec in 1998 or 1999. A British Airways 747-400 was AOG due to an engine problem and sat out overnight at Montreal International Airport. The following afternoon, the aircraft was towed to the centralized de-icing pad, as what was estimated to be more than three tons of ice had built up on the fuselage, wings and tail. Nine de-icing trucks emptied more than 47,000 liters [12,400 gallons] of Type I fluid onto the aircraft to finally liberate it from the adhering ice. The de-icing cost BA a mere $265,000 to get its aircraft on its way back to London.”

Leading Edge has been conducting de-icing training for pilots and de-icing equipment operators since 1997, both on-site and on its Web site at www.deicingcbt.com.

While agreeing that the issue of de-icing cost is important to the operators of any type of aircraft, Randa feels it is more important for business jet pilots to ponder the following:
• When is the right time to have the aircraft de-iced and/or anti-iced?
• When to delay or cancel a flight due to heavy precipitation, limited de-icing capabilities at the airport/FBO (slow, old equipment or lack of Type IV anti-icing fluids) and insufficient holdover time
to taxi and take off.
• Whether the fluid about to be sprayed onto the aircraft is the proper mixture, quality and temperature before you pay $15 per gallon. Are you getting what you pay for?
• What minimum amount of Type IV anti-icing fluid must be applied to your specific aircraft to obtain maximum protection. (There is a formula to figure this out.)
• Has your aircraft been certified by the manufacturer to use Type II, III or IV anti-icing fluids?
• A takeoff roll of at least 23 seconds is required to shed approximately 75 percent of the anti-icing fluid from your aircraft’s wings. Some aircraft may experience loss of lift during the rotation and climb phase due to the use of anti-icing fluids. There may be performance penalties associated with the use of these fluids on your aircraft.
• How can a pilot recognize, while inspecting the wings, if the de-icing/anti-icing fluid on the wings has failed?
• If a pilot is out of holdover time, he can conduct a pre-takeoff contamination inspection and, if the wing condition is satisfactory, gain a five-minute allowance to take off. This is a procedure approved by the FAA and Transport Canada.

A Learjet 45 chief pilot wrote, “I feel strongly about de-icing when there is any accumulation of snow or ice on the aircraft. However, with the rising cost of having an aircraft de-iced (we paid $1,500 to have ours sprayed with Type I fluid at Piedmont Hawthorne Dulles) I am sure some operators hesitate to spend the money–especially if there is only a light covering of frost on the aircraft. Therein lies the problem. As we have recently witnessed, any amount of ice on the surfaces could be deadly if not removed before flight.

“I am sure the FBOs have a lot of money invested in equipment, personnel and training, in addition to the cost of the de-icing fluid. They are in business to make a profit, and I sure can’t fault them for that. But when you pay $15 to $20 per gallon for de-icing fluid, that is too much.”

A Learjet 35 pilot had this to say about a de-icing that stuck in his memory: “$7,000 (yes, $7,000 not $700) to de-ice our Learjet at BOS Signature the winter of 1999 after a huge storm pushed through. Their answer for the high bill was, ‘Be glad you weren’t the GII; theirs was $14,000.’”

Since this is the pilots’ chance to sound off on de-icing, perhaps we will hear from FBOs on why the fluid and the application process cost what they cost. None of our respondents acknowledged, for example, the stringent environmental regulations that now surround the de-icing process.

The Price of Safety
David Williams used to fly in the Northeast for Shuttle America and BusinessExpress, and for 21 years before that with the U.S. Navy flying North Pacific patrols. After 30 years in and out of winter weather, he has headed south and is now a captain/check airman for an airline in the warm climes of the Caribbean. “There are obvious times when you know your aircraft needs to be de-iced. Other times, it may not readily appear that de-icing is needed, as in the case of morning frost after a clear night outside. It is always a great learning experience for the first officer, who after inspecting the aircraft has informed you that it does not need to be de-iced, to be taken back outside to be shown where the frost is, what it looks and feels like, and to be told that the aircraft does in fact need to be de-iced. Some lessons are never forgotten.

“The hard part of the decision-making for de-icing is when you are running against the clock, the ice is not apparent (as with clear ice or stabilizer ice) and you do a fast inspection. Your choice to save the company time and money may prove to be fatally flawed.

“The other problem with de-icing an aircraft involves the effect of high wind or jet blast from the aircraft in front, which will significantly decrease the holdover times, as the de-icing manufacturer disclaimer states. The amount of this decrease in holdover times is a guess. If you as the pilot guess correctly, you can fly again. If you guess incorrectly, you will not be able to fly again–but that falls into the category of ‘pilot error.’”

Robert Thompson, who flies for EJM at Chicago-Wheeling, Ill., recounted how “We spent $1,600 to de-ice our Gulfstream G200 during moderate snowfall at BTV (Burlington, Vt.). This seems outrageously high. I had broomed most of the snow off beforehand and the airplane was then de-iced with Type I fluid, followed by a protective application of Type IV fluid. The de-icing crew seemed to think they were firefighting, using way more fluid than necessary even though I was there to supervise the operation and had discussed the process beforehand.”

Jamie Stember flies a Challenger 604 out of Baltimore-Washington International for TAG Aviation, and he had this to say, “The cost of de-icing is irrelevant compared with the value of human life! If an organization or company can afford to operate a corporate aircraft, then the financial cost of de-icing should never be a consideration.

“If the aircraft has signs of possible performance degradation due to inclement conditions, then it is prudent for us as professional pilots to de-ice. A pilot who would elect to cut costs at the risk of losing the aircraft, along with its crew and passengers, needs to recheck his bag of ethics.

“Remember this: as professional pilots, we are ultimately paid for our decision-making abilities, and that may sometimes include telling a boss or a passenger ‘NO!’

It is incumbent upon us all to keep our passengers safe and exhibit the highest standards of professional airmanship.”

Rich Boyle, chief pilot with Davidson Hotel Co. in Memphis, Tenn., paid more than $900 to have a Learjet 31 de-iced and anti-iced on February 2 at Salt Lake City (SLC), where it was 30 degrees F and snowing. “We will de-ice once or twice a year and put safety before cost every time. Million Air at SLC has an excellent, remote, discrete-frequency de-icing and anti-icing program.”

CW4 Granville Shrader said he is relatively new to fixed-wing flying and currently flies Super King Air 200s in Germany for the U.S. Army. He recalled making a trip recently through Nurnberg, “where the weather was the worst I have seen since coming to Europe in 2002. I received de-icing (Type II, 50 percent) and the cost was E1,265, about $1,700. Seems pretty steep for approximately 10 to 15 gallons of fluid. Thank you for your articles and forums concerning the hazards of icing.”

Wayne Sherman, chief pilot with FC Aviation at Palwaukee Municipal Airport (PWK), is happy to have a boss who agrees with him that the cost of not de-icing far exceeds any possible costs associated with de-icing. “The actual cost varies according to how much is used and where it is purchased. Application techniques vary from FBO to FBO, and since it is billed by the gallon, the total cost varies accordingly.

“Why anyone would choose not to de-ice is far beyond reason. It is cheap insurance in our book, and money well spent.”

Joe Corrado, aviation department manager for Cameron Aviation at White Plains, N.Y., writes, “We operate a Challenger 601-3R and have religiously de-iced when needed. At the major FBOs such as Signature, a quick anti-ice can be as low as $250. An airplane covered in ice and snow can run as high as $3,000.”

And from Europe writes Roland Pommier, now quality manager for Abelag Aviation at Brussels National Airport but for the previous 20 years an active ATPL flying Conquest IIs, Learjet 35s and Falcon 50s. “We preferred to brush the airframe and clean the aircraft ourselves when only frost or very dry snow was observed. But when needed, obviously, we requested full de-icing service.

“Now that I work on the other side of the business I have to promote another approach. Icing topics are often reviewed during aircraft ground recurrent courses and operator flight checks. Your very fine publication addresses this problem at just the right time, and I advocate a systematic de-icing of our airplanes in response to the latest incidents/accidents publicized by the press. For your information, the Scandinavian countries are the most expensive in Europe for any requested service.”

We’ll give the last word in this round of icing discussion to Kelly McDonough, director of maintenance with American Seafoods’ corporate flight department in Seattle: “Why in the world would anyone in their right mind ask about the cost of something so important to lives in our industry? That’s like asking if it is too expensive to fill your tanks all the way for a trip from Seattle to Hawaii. If there is a need for de-icing, then just do it. There are plenty of resources to use when determining the need for de-icing. I have looked through the AFM, FCOM and maintenance libraries on our Challenger 300 and Hawker 800, and nowhere does it list price as a determining factor.

“Explaining costs to a widow or family is harder than explaining them to the boss.”

FAA Explains Why Challenger 300 Not Covered by Icing AD

The FAA said the recent AD (2005-04-07) addressing icing issues of the Challenger 600 series does not cover the Challenger 300 because its wing and other factors “improve its performance compared with the Challenger 600”. Specifically, the FAA told AIN that the wing on the Challenger 300 has approximately the same planform area as the wing on the Challenger 600 series “yet has a maximum takeoff weight approximately 9,100 pounds less than the CL-604, thus having less wing loading and improved stall characteristics.”

According to the FAA, the 300’s stall-protection system has also been changed to “provide more effective stall margins,” and its wing was designed “more robustly to better withstand wing contamination through the introduction of leading-edge droop and vortilons.” The 300’s wing is of supercritical design yet sections of the wing in front of the ailerons have “softened the supercritical effect, allowing for better flow over the ailerons.” In addition, “there has not been any service history related to icing on the Challenger 300.” About 30 Challenger 300s are currently in operation.