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Airport Runway Deicing

Airport Runway Deicing

Justin Rollin

Airports that are located in locations that get snow and ice require a solution to keep passengers safe. Many airports use different methods to maintain surface friction if there is snow and ice on the runways, taxiways, and aprons. Runway de-icing products provide an effective alternative to constantly clearing snow and ice that will only continue to accumulate throughout the winter season.

Requirements for Airport De-icing Products

It used to be the case that urea was used as a de-icing agent on airport tarmacs, but this is no longer used. Urea has a significantly negative impact on the environment and is not suitable for widespread use. As a result, there are now requirements in place that outline the types of de-icing agents that are suitable for runway deicing. Urea has been replaced with acetate and chloride deicers instead. These formate-based deicers are better for the environment and are now widely used in airports around the world.

Types of Deicers Used for Airport Runways

Here are some runway deicers commonly used in airports:

Deicers - How Do They Work on Runways? 

deicing runway

In most cases, liquid deicers are used as anti-icers — meaning they’re applied proactively. They’re often applied before there’s a chance for snow and ice to accumulate or bond to the pavement. Think of it in the same way that you apply cooking spray to a frying pan to ensure your food doesn’t stick. Any remaining snow and ice that does accumulate on the runway are significantly easier to remove when a liquid deicer is applied beforehand. 

Solid deicers, on the other hand, are applied after snow and ice have fallen and bonded to the surface of the road. The solid material creates holes in the snow and ice as the deicer transitions from a solid to a liquid. There are some solids such as sodium acetate anhydrous that give off heat as they dissolve, working quickly to melt the snow and ice. 

As you can imagine, anti-icing techniques have a greater impact and require less energy. In addition, less chemical is required to prevent the bond from forming rather than waiting to break the bond afterward. 

Deicers’ Effectiveness on Airport Runways 

The deicers themselves help to lower the snow and ice’s melting point and turn them into liquid brine solutions. As soon as the brine comes into contact with the surface, it begins to break the bond between the pavement and the ice. The active ingredient concentration and the type of deicer used will determine how fast the brine forms as well as the melting efficacy and staying power of the ice.

When deicing runways, it’s important that airports know when to use liquid versus solid products. For example, Lambert-St. Louis International Airport primarily uses liquid potassium acetate when treating runways but switches to solids for walkways and ramps. Even in cases where they experience 8 inches of snow mixed with 2 inches of freezing rain and ice, they are able to effectively remove the snow and ice and maintain 80-90% “bare pavement” conditions.

Alternative Methods to Get Rid of Ice on Runways  

There are other ways to approach deicing runways, including the use of mechanical equipment. There are a high-speed broom and plow techniques that are ideal for removing snow and ice from airport surfaces. This removal technique is ideal for low temperatures (below 15 degrees Fahrenheit) when snow is on the drier side and doesn’t adhere to surfaces as easily. 

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Runway deicers play an important role in safe travels throughout the winter months. If you’re interested in learning more about how our team at Ninja De-Icer can help you keep your airport safe throughout the year, we encourage you to get a quote from us today!