Just in Time for the Winter Season


Christmas trees are going up, shopping season is kicking into high gear, and the weather is getting chillier. Ah yes, it’s time for winter. Now, that doesn’t mean much here in LA where it’s a rare cold night when the temperature heads below freezing, but for the rest of the country, it requires bigger changes.

In places like Denver, it’s time to prepare for snow. And at Denver International Airport, it means hiring seasonal employees to handle the de-icing operation. As you probably know, when airplanes gather ice on their wings, bad things happen because planes lose lift. One of the most infamous icing accidents involved Air Florida flight 90departing Washington/National. Departure delays meant ice built up on the wings, and the pilots mistakenly tried to depart without further de-icing, the plane couldn’t climb and it crashed into the 14th St Bridge in Washington DC.

Obviously, de-icing is a serious business, but the airlines don’t generally handle it themselves. They contract with third parties who handle the seasonal task. So, when channel 4 in Denver starting hearing from “someone inside” Servisair, one of the companies that handles de-icing, that there were improprieties in the hiring process, they had one of their people go under cover and apply for a job.

As you might have guessed, it hasn’t turned out well. The first part included links to videos showing the examiners feeding all the answers to the applicants so that they could pass each airline’s test. Hmm, that doesn’t sound good. There were also other violations discussed in part 2.

Clearly, this is a bad thing. When you’re de-icing, you get up close to aircraft and you have access to the secure part of the airfield, so there needs to be a great deal of training involved. But is it a danger to the aircraft that get de-iced?

It could be. A report from 1993 (yes it’s old) recommended that pilots always double check the wings after de-icing to make sure that they’re clean. The report said that there were cases where pilots did not do that, leading them to depart with some wing contamination. So, if the de-icing crew is not as well-versed in de-icing as they need to be and the pilots don’t check the wings themselves, there could be problems.

This report was in 1993, and I would hope there have been changes since that time, but I don’t know for sure. Any pilots out there who can speak to this?

The company says this is not policy (duh), but I wonder how long this has been going on. Looking back, I couldn’t find a de-icing accident at Denver since a Continental DC-9 crashed on takeoff in November 1987. So even if this has been going on for up to 20 years, it hasn’t caused any de-icing problems in that time. Still, it doesn’t exactly sit well.

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2 comments on “Just in Time for the Winter Season

  1. As I remember it — and it was a long time ago, so correct me if I’m wrong — Air Florida had not been flying up north for very long, and the palm-tree pilot didn’t realize that when snow/ice began building up on the wings during a long take-off delay, it would have been time to get out of the conga line to be de-iced again.

    Claire @ http://travel-babel.blogspot.com

  2. Every flight we are responsible for ensuring that all critical surfaces are free of ice and snow. In Canada I need to see a video and do a corresponding exam every year for every employer. The problem is that some parts of the test aren’t applicable to some operations so yes, operators do feed us those answers. We do take deicing very seriously and I will not disregard an “ice on wings” report from anyone. When I did aerial work in a small plane where I deiced, ran up and then picked up my observer with the engine running, I would deice the tail first. Why? I trained my non-pilot crewmember to run his fingers over the horizontal stabilizer as he approached to board, and report any refreezing to me. If the first area to be deiced was still clean, then I was willing to trust that nothing else was frozen either. (It was a high-wing, so I couldn’t see my own wings).

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