If you’re considering a career in the airlines or even in the corporate world, this time of year is one in which you should get into the habit of moving your brain from summer to winter operations. As I write this, it is not yet Labor Day, but temperatures have started to cool after a difficult summer of unrelenting heat. In the northern states, the nights are much cooler, and by early October, there will be places that are getting regular bouts of morning frost, and that means that the deicing season has begun.
Hints of this have popped up already around the country, as I have noticed a number of airports have pulled their deicing trucks out of storage and begun to run them to make sure the truck portion works, to say nothing of the deicing equipment. Everything needs to be tested and calibrated, and each season there are new wrinkles added to deicing programs and protocols. These can include new fluid manufacturers, new procedures for both deicing crews and flight crews (a few years ago, a concept called “liquid water equivalent” was introduced, and to be honest, I still don’t totally understand it, but it is the new standard for determining deicing strategies and holdover times). New employees will also get trained, and that process is easy to recognize as you see deicing trucks spray water on airplanes.
Preparation by the airlines or even fixed-base operators for deicing operations, especially on a large scale, starts around June. But for flight crews, it is on the horizon as the school year starts, and winter ops present their own challenges. Getting sprayed to remove a layer of frost is generally no big deal, but it has to be done correctly and by people who are trained to do it. In the next few weeks, airlines will begin disseminating their annual revisions to the manuals across their systems reflecting changes for the upcoming season. While liquid water equivalent is the new standard for calculating holdover times, it isn’t available for everyone. However, with the proliferation of iPads and electronic flight bags, apps are available to help take some of the guesswork and error out of the process.
I personally make it a habit to review the Cold Weather Operations sections of our manuals each season, especially if I got lucky the previous year and didn’t have to deal much with bad winter weather (last year was one of those years for me—it was cold, but I managed to avoid most of the snow and ice). There are limitations for the airplane and the operation for cold weather ops, and some aircraft systems are used differently. Some airports have fairly simplistic deicing complexes, and others are straightforward and simple. The Canadians are masterful at deicing, but it’s up to us as pilots to know how their systems work in order to keep it moving; a good review of the appropriate Jepp pages well before you need them will go a long way.
The next few months offer some of the best flying of the year as summer storms give way to cooler weather and more stable air, but it is worth remembering that around the corner, Old Man Winter awaits, and he isn’t one to trifle with the rules. Study up, and be ready, because ice and snow are unique hazards all their own.