Flying in cold weather is a regular part of air travel.
But, when temperatures on the ground get cold enough to freeze, contaminants like frozen slush, snow, and ice can adversely affect aircraft. Once airborne, commercial airplanes are equipped with special anti-ice systems that allow them to keep from freezing while they are in the air. But prior to flying, Ramp Agents must remove ice that may have accumulated on the aircraft.
Enter the Icemen
Deicing is accomplished by spraying heated fluid onto an aircraft. Deicing fluid is applied to aircraft from large tank trucks by specially-trained Ramp Agents, fondly referred to as “Icemen” by Pilots. The fluid protects aircraft by removing ice from a plane’s surfaces.
Different temperatures require different mixtures of deicing fluid; colder air temperatures require more concentrated mixtures. Until a few years ago, Southwest mixed this solution using a manual and time-intensive process known as “sight blending.” Ratios of deicing fluid to water were calculated, measured, and manually blended, one truck tank at a time. While the method proved effective for deicing, the time-consuming process often resulted in deicing fluids that were more highly concentrated than necessary.
Fluid Blending System
In 2017, Southwest invested in an all-new deicing fluid blending system for many of our cold-weather airports. This system features computer-controlled mixing hardware that is easily adjusted based on changes in temperature or to compensate for the blended fluid that might already be in a truck. The system also reduces the risk of overfilling, lowering the chance for waste or spillage.
Better System, Better Results
The new system allows our Ramp Agents to use less deicing product, reducing our consumption and reducing our environmental footprint. The system also saves time. Loading a deicing truck previously took between 30 and 45 minutes; with the new fluid blending system, Ramp Agents can fill a truck in 10 to 15 minutes. And since the new system allows us to reduce consumption and streamline operations, it is also good for our business—helping us keep our costs low.
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