Breaking the ice – ground solutions for removing frozen contaminants from aircraft

Image of soldiers bording a plane

1. Challenge Statement

The Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces (DND/CAF) are looking for rapid and cost-effective ground solutions for removing frozen contaminants from critical aircraft surfaces and once completed, reliably inspecting those surfaces just prior to take-off.

2. Background and Context

The accumulation of frost, snow and ice on critical aircraft surfaces (e.g., wing, rotor, aileron, rudder, stabilisers) pose considerable risks. For example, ice will alter the airflow over the wing and tail, which reduces the lift force that keeps a plane in the air and can cause a stall – a temporary, or permanent, loss of control of the aircraft which can lead to fatality. Snow and ice also adds excessive weight to an aircraft that reduces flight performance and when unaccounted for, results in hazardous flight operations.

To remediate ice build-up on the ground, products and procedures have been developed to remove, and to a certain extent prevent, snow and ice accumulation on aircraft. Ground procedures consist of spaying a de-icing and/or anti-icing fluid on the aircraft minutes before takeoff followed by a mandatory inspection to ensure that all frozen contaminants have been removed from the critical surfaces. Currently, the only approved and reliable method of verifying that snow and ice has been safely removed is for personnel to conduct a close visual inspection, ideally accompanied by a physical touch (i.e., “tactile check”) of aircraft surfaces.

De-icing/anti-icing fluid is very costly, not all airports have the required capabilities, and the entire process is time consuming. It is also extremely difficult to determine with certainty that aircraft surfaces have been cleared of all frozen contaminants following the procedure. Problem areas can be missed when relying solely on the visual detection of residual contamination.

3. Desired Outcomes

The DND/CAF is looking for innovative solutions to address one or more of the following;

  • Reducing the time needed for ground procedures for de-icing/anti-icing aircraft surfaces;
  • Reducing the cost associated with using de-icing/anti-icing products, where applicable;
  • Quickly and reliably certifying that critical aircraft surfaces are free of frozen contaminants;

4. Supplementary Information

Currently, only certain airports have de-icing/anti-icing capabilities. Innovators should consider solutions that are not predicated on the need for other expensive airport capabilities.

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