(De) Ice Ice Baby

Published on 14th July 2017 at 13:41

As the national carrier for a sunburnt country, we don’t have to deal with icy conditions very often.

But in the depths of winter, some of our aircraft can get a bit frosty sitting on the ground overnight in places like Canberra, Hobart and even Melbourne.

Having ice on the wings can be an issue because it changes the aerodynamics (i.e. how air flows over the wing, which is crucial to stable flight). It also increases the weight of the aircraft, depending on how thick it is.

Airlines in colder climates face this challenge often. And our international flights to cities like New York and London can be caught up in lengthy delays as aircraft line up to have their ice removed.

DE-ICING 101

Unlike your car windscreen, scraping ice off the wings with a spatula isn’t an option.

Spray not spatula: There’s no scraping ice and frost from the  wings – that’s why a special liquid is used.

The process starts with our teams inspecting aircraft closely to see if there’s even a very thin layer of ice on the wings. Then, the ‘de-icing truck’ is summoned and our trained de-icers get to work. They spray a heated, gycol-based solution that removes ice and stops more from forming.

The liquid we use is a yellow or orange colour so we can easily see which parts of the plane have been treated. The process is carefully choreographed, starting at one wingtip and working around, avoiding sensitive areas of the aircraft.

Timing is everything. The solution works for about 10 minutes then ice may begin to appear again, so it has to be completed just before take-off.

Ice incidents in ports where we don’t have de-icing equipment is very unusual, although a few years ago it did happen in the New South Wales town of Port Macquarie – a region with one of the lowest numbers of mittens per capita.

When that happens, we try to warm the plane from the inside by cranking the heating, and move into a sunny spot if we can. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen often.

Push for (no) ice: These buttons inside the cockpit of  747-400 activate the deicing systems to stop frost and ice forming on the engine panels and wings

ISN’T IT FREEZING UP THERE?

Once airborne, aircraft spend most of their time in temperatures that are well below freezing all year round. If there is enough moisture, and particularly when flying through clouds, ice can form on the wing.

That’s where the in-flight de-icing system comes in. It channels hot air from the engines through a series of small tubes sitting beneath the metal skin of the wings to stop ice from forming.

So with all of this talk about the cold, we’re counting down the days until an Australian summer.

*Special thanks to the team at QantasLink Michael Leben, Steve Cowell, Denny Vucicevic, Megan Patton, Jarrod MacFarlane and Arun Murthy for sending through some icy pics.