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Plane deicing

This winter, the number of planes departing Pearson is much lower than in previous years because of the slowdown in travel due to COVID-19. But even though we won’t have as many sunseekers excitedly travelling down south for some warmth, our CDF continues to operate 24/7 to deice any planes that need it.  

With 160 staff members and 36 deicing units, our CDF is capable of deicing 500 planes in a single day. Our operation is designed so the CDF crews can communicate easily with pilots, equipment operators and air traffic controllers to make sure the planes are being serviced as quickly and safely as possible.  

Why we need to deice planes

A plane’s wings and rear tail are built with a very specific shape in order to provide proper lift for flight. Snow and ice on these areas change the wings’ shape and disrupt the airflow across critical surfaces. Even the smallest amounts of snow or ice on an aircraft can affect its ability to generate lift or to maintain control in flight. 

How planes are deiced

After you’ve boarded and are comfortably in your seat, the plane pushes back from the gate and makes a stop at the CDF before heading to the runway. The plane will be assigned to one of our six deicing pads, where multiple deicing trucks will converge to begin spraying the aircraft. 
Each truck is driven by a Deicing Specialist who sits in an elevated cab so that he or she can guide a spray arm to clean the aircraft with a glycol-based fluid. We use glycol because when heated, it holds onto that warmth and protects the surface of the plane while melting away ice or snow. 

The deicing spray

There are two types of glycol used: 

  • Type 1 is a mix of glycol and water and has a distinctive orange colour. This mixture breaks the bond between frost, ice or snow and the wings of the plane. It’s sprayed with force to knock the snow and ice off the plane.
  • Type 4 is an anti-icing fluid that stops new ice or snow from sticking to the plane, especially when it’s still snowing. This fluid is bright green in colour.


Once the deicing treatment is done, the pilot taxies the aircraft away from the deicing pad and to the runway to take off.  

What happens to the used deicing fluid

Each deicing pad is sloped from north to south, which allows the used glycol spray to run directly into special drains which connect to any one of the CDF’s massive underground storage tanks. 
The tanks have a combined volume of 15 million litres. The contents of these tanks are measured, tested and recycled for use in other markets, all to keep any glycol run-off from impacting the natural environment. 

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