A brief history of deicing at Northeast Air

Northeast Air deicing trucks spray down a Delta Connection aircraft on a snowy morning at the Portland International Jetport

Averting a Crisis

In 2008, the Clean Water Act (“CWA”) brought about a new awareness of stormwater discharges into the Long Creek Watershed in Portland, Maine. Officials for the City of Portland, Maine were inspecting the areas near the Portland International Jetport when they found that deicing fluid was leeching into the groundwater and possibly contaminating the watershed. This was a big deal, and the officials began devising a plan to mitigate seepage of what amounts to a pretty harmful chemical, but one that is necessary for safe air travel.

Northeast Air wanted to get ahead of the game when we found out this was happening, and willingly joined the battle to minimize contaminant discharged in the Long Creek Watershed. While we couldn’t do anything about the airport property itself, we could use emerging technologies to help our operation become more environmentally sound. Help came in the form of two new state-of-the-art deicing trucks.

At around $350,000 per unit, these trucks were a huge investment for Northeast Air, but one that we were committed to making. Essentially, this became Phase 1 of our technology upgrade, an attempt to help control environmental damage.

A Northeast Air AirFirst Deicing Truck sprays a Delta aircraft with deicing fluid on a cold, sunny morning in Portland, Maine

Deicing with AirFirst

The new trucks use a technology system called AirFirst, which adds air and water to the deicing glycol solution, helping to mitigate glycol seepage while still providing excellent aircraft coverage. The amount of glycol used by NEA dropped by 25%-35%, both a wise financial decision and an environmentally sound practice.

The trucks that NEA purchased during Phase 1 also helped during the glycol capture process. Phase two came when Northeast Air merged with a company called Contego. This company specialized in capturing the glycol mixture from the deicing pad to recycle it, allowing for a much more economical and environmentally safe deicing procedure. After the Contego merger, Northeast Air took further steps toward upgrading deicing technology and invested in a glycol blending system.

The glycol blending system reads the ambient temperature and finds a mix of water, air, and glycol that will work best with that temperature. This leads to a much more efficient system, one that ensures that the most amount of glycol actually gets—and stays—on the aircraft. Once the the blending system was installed, and combined with the AirFirst trucks, overall glycol usage dropped significantly.

A Northeast Air AirFirst Deicing Truck repositions after spraying an aircraft keeping it #IceFree

Worth the Investment

But Northeast Air wasn’t done yet. To make even more progress and mitigate seepage, NEA invested in four more Air First deicing trucks, giving us a total of six vehicles. This number of AirFirst System deicing trucks for one service provider made Northeast Air unique in the industry, especially for an airport the size of the Portland International Jetport.

The top of the line technology of the AirFirst system, coupled with enclosed and heated spraying buckets, make for the most efficient deicing system in the industry. Spraying technicians who are comfortable and sheltered from the elements are better able to apply the deicing fluid more accurately, and are more diligent in their accuracy.

Putting all the parts together—new AirFirst deicing trucks, an environmentally sound glycol capture system, and the highly efficient glycol blending system—puts Northeast Air at the front of the deicing industry in the United States. Quite an accomplishment for the size of our company.

Next time you’re caught on a plane that is being deiced, look out the window and think about how much technology is being put to use to keep you safe and on time.


 

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