3 Keys to Airport Winter Operations Success


The winter of 2018 saw one of the toughest winters for airports in recent memory with many municipalities setting record levels of snow fall. According to the 2020 Farmers’ Almanac, this winter will be filled with so many ups and downs on the thermometer, it may remind you of a “Polar Coaster.” — Farmers’ Almanac

“Freezing, frigid, and frosty winter for two-thirds of the country” Farmers’ Almanac

Keeping your airport running at peak operational efficiency will take a team effort, but it can start with you. Following the best practices of the 3 C’s, early winter preparation, and a proper deicing plan, you can achieve Winter Operational Success.

The 3 C’s

Communicate, Coordinate, Collaborate

Determine Internal and External Stakeholders:

Before you can begin to think about Winter Operations Success, it’s vital to identify who your main stake holders are. This includes both Internal and External.

Common Internal Stakeholders:

  • Aircraft Deicing Operations

  • Terminal & Airfield Operations

  • Airfield Maintenance

  • Facilities Maintenance

  • Engineering

  • PR

  • Executive Management

  • Finance

  • Publice Saftey

  • Airport Firefighting

Common External Stakeholders:

  • FAA

  • Air Carriers

  • FBOs

  • Snow Removal Contractors

Depending on who your stakeholders are, you will approach how you communicate, coordinate, and collaborate differently.


Now that you know who your stakeholders are, you need to make sure you have an effective communication plan in place. Use the below characteristics to review how you communicate with your stakeholders and self identify how effective you were:

  • Targeted - Were all the right people included?

  • Timely - At what time, and when did you communicate?

  • Clarity - Was what you were asking for clearly stated?

  • Concise - How many paragraphs are your emails on average? Typically, no more than 3 should be used.

  • Recurring - Did you communicate important information multiple times, especially if over an extended period of time?

  • Two-Way - Did you and your stakeholders both follow the above?

Depending on how many of the above characteristics you said yes to, you may want to re-evaluate how you’re communicating with your stakeholders.


Successful winter operations highly depends on your ability to coordinate with internal and external stakeholders and departments. Use the following characteristics to identify how effective you are:

  • Chain-of-Command - Is it clear and obvious who is in charge and who is responsible for success?

  • Goal Setting - Does everyone know what your goals are for this winter?

  • Execution - How many redundant and duplicate tasks are assigned to your team?

  • Adaptability - How easy is it for you to make changes if wrinkles are introduced to your plan?


Once you’ve established your communication and coordination plans, you can begin to collaborate with your internal stakeholders. Use the below characteristics to build an effective environment for collaboration:

  • Respect& Trust- All stakeholders need to have solid trust and respect for each other that they will get their job done.

  • Leadership- Do what ever it takes to safely get the job done.

  • Goal Oriented- Work together towards a common goal.

Winter Preparation

Your airport’s winter success and safety depends on execution of a winter operations plan, beginning with the 3 C’s, Communication, Coordination, and Collaboration. But that doesn’t mean you start thinking about your plan when the first snow occurs. Any airport located in areas that experience snow and ice events needs to have a year round plan.

Snow Committee

The formation of a Snow Committee, who’s role is to have winter operations in mind all year, is the first step to make sure your airport is successful when the temperature drops.

At a minimum, the Snow Committee should be meeting to discuss FAA winter regulations, pre-season planning, winter success criteria, Three C’s effectiveness, and post-season planning.

(MAC) Minimum Airfield Clearing

Inevitably, a winter storm will cover every inch of your airport. Some will respond by procedurally clearing each runway in an attempt to keep the airport operational. Successful airports will dynamically clear the appropriate surfaces based on coordination with airport stakeholders(mainlythe ATC).

No airport has the resources to maintain the entire airport during a significant snow event, nor is it a good idea to take one area at a time. As a successful winter airport operator, you need to determine in real time which areas need clearing first, and which ones may to be cleared at all. This priority list should be created and maintained by your Snow Committee.

Proper Deicing Plan

Perhaps the most important part of any successful airport winter operation is the equipment you use. No amount of planning can make up for using the wrong equipment. Use the guide below to make sure you have the right equipment for your airport operations.

De-Ice vs Anti-Ice

When it comes to flying planes in the winter there are two fluids you need to be aware of:

Anti-Ice → Type IV

Anti-Icing Fluid is designed for contaminate-free, fixed-wing, metal aircraft (Vr of 85 Knots or more, only) to delay the accumulation of frost, snow & ice while on the ramp and taxiing for takeoff. It's typically sprayed unheated, directly upon the aircraft's upper wing and tail surfaces. Because of its viscous nature, it clings to those surfaces and "absorbs"the continuing frozen precipitation. The anti-icing fluid(andentrapped contaminants) are then"sheared" off the wing/tail surfaces by wind speed on the takeoff roll.

De-Ice → Type I

Aircraft Ground Deicing Fluids are designed for all fixed-wing, metal aircraft(piston,turboprop, or jet) to remove frost, snow & ice prior to flight. They're typically sprayed hot, directly onto the aircraft's critical surfaces with a handheld or powered sprayer to'melt' the frozen contaminates, thereby allowing safe takeoff.

Gas or Electric

When it comes to Aircraft De-icing carts, there are two types of engines, Gas or Electric.

Gas powered engines have the advantage of more power, more gallons per minute, and more PSI which helps remove ice off the wing when de-icing. It’s important to note that gas engines can’t be used for anti-ice due to the continuous circulation of fluid, which can break down the viscosity of anti-ice fluid.

Electric powered engines have less power than gas and are typically used for anti-icing operations, but can also be used for de-icing as well.

Cart Size

Typical de-icing trucks are not known for being cheap with prices commonly entering the $100k+ range. While these machines will get the job done, for many midsize or smaller airports they are overkill. If you don’t need an expensive de-icing truck, or are looking for an alternative, there are cheaper and smaller options available.

110 Gallon Cart

Able to output 10 gallons per minute at 250psi with a 5.5 hp Honda engine, this cart is powerful enough to de-ice or anti-ice larger planes or when de-icng several planes at one time.

60 Gallon / 40 Gallon Carts

With the same 5.5 hp Honda engine, these carts output 7 gallons per minute at 150 PSI. These carts are more maneuverable than the larger 110 gallon and can hold/store a 55 gallon drum of fluid..

25 Gallon Cart

The 25 gallon cart is the entry level anti/de-iceing cart and is typically used when you only need to spray a few planes per year.



For maximum portability or for quick de-icing operations, you can go with a handheld sprayer ranging from 1 to 3 gallons. These sprayers can output 1.2 gallons per minute at 20 PSI. You can take it with you on the plane when traveling to areas that do not have de-icing equipment where you are able to heat the fluid and remove the ice and snow from your plane yourself.


Immersion Heaters

De-icing fluids are typically sprayed on hot (130 - 180 °F, 55 - 80 °C ) at high pressure to remove snow, ice and frost. This can be quite difficult when the outsize temperature is well below freezing. Thus, combining an immersion heater with your de-icing equipment is a must.

Transfer Tanks

Before applying de-icing fluid, for maximum effectiveness, you should heat it to 160℉. This can take several hours depending on how cold it is out side and must be restarted with every new tank. A transfer tank heats up the de-icing fluid, allowing fast transfers from the tank to the cart so you can immediately begin to spray a plane.

Holdover Time

Once your plane has had all the ice and snow removed with a de-icing fluid, and an anti-ice fluid has been applied, you have a limited amount of time before you need to take off. This is the holdover time. Depending on the fluid you are using, it can range from 9 minutes (in harsh weather), to 160 minutes.

Knowing your exact holdover time for you planes is imperative to operating smoothly in harsh winter weather conditions. Of course, getting planes in the air as fast as possible is your priority, but if you need to hold a plane, knowing which one is still within the holdover time, and which is about to expire (and needs to be re-sprayed) could be the difference between a successful and unsuccessful day.

View the FAA Holdover Table