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One of the answers to this question mentions how runways are usually in need of de-icing on cold days (which makes sense), and as anyone who has ridden an airplane on a cold day knows, planes need de-icing too.

What I'm wondering is a few things:

  • What is used to de-ice a commercial aircraft?
  • What is used to de-ice a runway at a large airport?
  • Do the two fluids effect each other at all? Meaning, when an aircraft drips de-icing fluid onto the runway, does it cause any interactions or problems?
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    $\begingroup$ EASA published a report on the issue of aircraft anti-ice and runway de-icing products interacting: skybrary.aero/bookshelf/books/1347.pdf $\endgroup$
    – usernumber
    Commented Oct 31, 2014 at 21:04
  • $\begingroup$ I wonder how difficult it would be to build electrically heated runways. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 21, 2015 at 16:12
  • $\begingroup$ @SimonRichter someone asked that questions on this stack once, if you do a search I recall there being a pretty good answer. $\endgroup$
    – Jae Carr
    Commented Sep 22, 2015 at 18:34

2 Answers 2

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What is used to de-ice a commercial aircraft?

De-icing fluids are used which are made of ethylene glycol (EG) or propylene glycol (PG) in addition to other ingredients.

Airplane Deicing

What is used to de-ice a runway at a large airport?

Airports use different types of materials, e.g. potassium acetate. Safegrip ECO2 is a brand which is popular.

Runways can also be deiced using normal techniques like salt and snowplows etc.

Do the two fluids effect each other at all? Meaning, when an aircraft drips de-icing fluid onto the runway, does it cause any interactions or problems?

I do not think that there is much or any damage to a runway from the de-icing fluid. If something is bad for solid concrete, how it can be good for fragile aluminium?

Research shows that the residuals left on the airplanes cause some issues. Those are described below.

Effect of runway de-icing fluid residuals on airplanes

There are some studies that show the runway fluid having some adverse effects when combined with de-icing fluid residuals on airplanes. They state:

Runway deicing fluids contain potassium acetateor potassium formate-based fluids (deionizing salts). When these fluids combine, the separation of the anti-icing fluid thickeners may be enhanced, leading to a more rapid formation of the residue.

Effect of airplane de-icing fluid residuals on airplanes

However, de-icing fluid residuals on airplanes can freeze and cause damages to flight controls. More information is here.

Boeing

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  • $\begingroup$ The bulletin linked by usernumber in the other comment, skybrary.aero/bookshelf/books/1347.pdf, indicates that splashes of the runway de-icing fluid can reduce effectiveness of the type-IV aircraft anti-icing fluid if not cleared by applying hot water or type-I de-icing fluid first. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Commented Oct 31, 2014 at 22:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Farhan - If you could add what Jan is referencing to your answer I would gladly mark it as the correct one. $\endgroup$
    – Jae Carr
    Commented Nov 1, 2014 at 21:29
  • $\begingroup$ @JayCarr I've updated my answer. $\endgroup$
    – Farhan
    Commented Nov 2, 2014 at 17:28
  • $\begingroup$ So, the ingredients used to de-ice seem to be like the antifreeze used in cars? $\endgroup$
    – verve
    Commented Sep 1, 2015 at 19:00
  • $\begingroup$ @verve - Similar. Ethylene glycol pretty much is automotive antifreeze. It's very poisonous to humans and wildlife, so propylene glycol (much less toxic but slightly less effective) is favored in certain areas. There are other de-icing fluids as well based on other alcohols. $\endgroup$
    – KeithS
    Commented Sep 21, 2015 at 14:49
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They test whether the runway needs clearing with a vehicle with acceleration sensors to check the grip when the driver steps on the brakes.

Airports will try to avoid using salt or glycol to clear the runway for environmental and maintenance reasons (salted sludge spray will corrode exposed metal on the plane) though they can be very effective for keeping the runway clear in moderate temperatures. Preferring the mechanical plows, blowers and sweepers to clear the surface.

Some airports also use grit to provide a grippy surface for the plane.

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  • $\begingroup$ Salt is almost never used due to the fact it's corrosive to many metals. $\endgroup$
    – Jon Story
    Commented Oct 31, 2014 at 21:36
  • $\begingroup$ Snowplow train at Salzburg. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Commented Sep 13, 2019 at 13:26

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