DeIce Age

img_6539It’s not exactly a secret that I love airplanes and I’m fascinated with airport operations, so when I was offered the chance to help out with deicing this winter you can probably imagine my reaction. “Wait… I get to be on the airfield, in a Follow Me truck, surrounded by airplanes and deicing equipment? Oh. Heck. YES!”

Every airport handles deicing differently. At my airport the airlines are responsible for their own deicing. However, Airport Operations is responsible for the flow of traffic into and out of the deicing area. Ops was looking for a couple extra people to help out and I’m told that they thought of me because I know a bit about airplanes. But honestly, who else are they going to find who is not only willing to be at work at a ridiculously early hour but is actually excited about it?

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“Did someone call the Iceman?” “No, they called DEICE, man!”

For now I’m just riding along while I train – and there’s A LOT to learn. Here’s how it works: Planes call Ops (deice control) when they are ready to taxi and we tell them which deicing pad to go to and how to get there. In some cases (especially if the pilot is new or unfamiliar with the airport) we’ll act as a Follow Me vehicle and either lead them into the deice pad, or park just ahead of where we want them to go so they can see where they need to be. Once in position they contact their own deice team to get sprayed down.  When deicing is complete they call us back and we pass them along to ground control for taxi instructions.

When planes push one at a time, it isn’t too bad. During the morning rush, however, there are many planes pushing at the same time, all of whom need to be deiced. If that weren’t enough, we also have to handle planes that are being moved from parking spots on the apron through the deice area on their way to various gates. Plus we have to watch out for planes at the gates that border the deice pads, who often push back with no notice. Oh, and did I mention we have to mentally juggle all these pieces while driving around, talking on the radio and keeping a log of every plane? It’s tetris on steroids with airplanes! It’s intense! And its also ridiculously awesome.

img_6548For the record, riding in a Follow Me truck is every bit as cool as I thought it would be. There’s nothing quite like looking out the back window and seeing the nose of a 737 RIGHT THERE. And in case you are wondering, deice trucks are just as fun to watch up close as they are from a distance. The airfield is especially lovely in the early morning. I never get tired of seeing airplanes silhouetted by the rising sun.

Plus at long last I’ve found out where my fellow aviation fans have been hiding – in Ops! I love spending time with coworkers who know what FOD is, who refer to the MD-80 as “the maddog” and who will pause to stare at the Boeing 757 at it takes off because hello – its a Boeing 757! For once I can be my geeky self and no one minds.

img_6527Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while might be a bit concerned about my ability to concentrate in the face of so much avgeek awesomeness. Fear not! I’m honored to have been given this opportunity and I’m going to try to learn as much as I can so I’m able to help out as much as possible. Besides, even though it can be very busy, there are also quiet moments where I’m free to geek out over all the cool stuff going on around me.

So what’s next? Well I’ve got to learn the call signs and ICAO codes for all the airlines at my airport. And I need to learn which regional airlines fly for which major airlines. And I need to get better at telling all those pesky RJs apart. And… well, you get the idea. For now my goal is to get good enough to be able to keep the log and be a second set of eyes, especially during snow events when things really get intense. Will I ever get good enough to go driving around by myself?  We’ll just have to wait and see. Oh, and in case you are wondering, the Follow Me truck is a regular SUV. But don’t worry – I’m already working on a list of reasons why a stairs truck would be vastly superior.

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9 thoughts on “DeIce Age

    • Hi Ron! Thanks so much for reading! Actually, there isn’t any tarmac at airports these days. Aerosavvy.com has a great article about it. To answer your question, planes get to taxi on the taxiways when they are given clearance by ATC. :o)

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  1. I love it: a volunteer deice crew! I’m telling you, this is how it starts. One day you’re an accountant at the airport, next thing you know you’re deicing airplanes, driving the stair truck, and maybe even flying the plane !

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    • Thanks for reading, as always Ron! Its not entirely volunteer in that I do get paid for my time. But you are right in that its outside of my normal duties and I’m there because I want to be. As for the stairs truck – I can only hope! And flying… well we shall see!

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  2. Hi Jennifer,

    Great post. I laughed when you wrote about the Iceman. Winnipeg International has an airport authority operated deice pad. The call sign for the deice supervisor is, you guessed it, “Iceman.” As airplanes approach the deice facility, pilots are instructed to contact “Iceman” for a bay assignment and instructions. Makes deicing fun!

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    • That’s too funny Ken! And it explains why we sometimes get called Iceman. I wonder what would happen if I responded with “Negative Ghost Rider, the pad is full!” LOL! As always, thanks so much for reading!

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  3. Another great read Jen. We don’t have to worry about de-icing here in Wellington as a sharp frost as about bad as it gets. We might get snow once every 30 years and it might last 5 hours.

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    • Thanks for reading Glen! Sharp frosts can still require deicing. Planes deice at my airport any morning there is frost, just to clear their wings and tail. But you’re right – snow is more of a hassle. Glad you don’t have to deal with it too often! :o)

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  4. Pingback: Year Two In Review | Tales from the Terminal

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