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Winter Weather Requires Patience for Airline Passengers

Winter requires a lot of preparation—you need to be sure you know where your snow shovel is, that your vehicle is ready for the cold and snow and that your fireplace is cleaned and ready for those chilly nights. And it’s no different for folks at the Springfield-Branson National Airport. KSMU’s Michele Skalicky visited the airport to find out what it takes to make sure planes are safe to fly in the cold and snowy weather…

On a recent frigid morning at the Springfield-Branson National Airport, passengers waited for at least 20 minutes on board their airplane while a crew worked to make sure no ice was present on the plane’s tail and wings…Ice on an airplane can be a very bad thing. That’s why airports across the country work hard this time of year to make sure planes are de-iced before they take off. Springfield-Branson National Airport spokesman Kent Boyd says if there’s frost on an airplane, you de-ice it…

"Any kind of ice on the leading edge of wings and tails on an airplane can affect the lift of the airplane, in other words, the plane's ability to take off and stay in the air."

According to Boyd, frost on an airplane can encourage the formation of more ice at high altitudes even if an airplane’s take-off goes smoothly.That’s why when temperatures are below freezing, a mixture of propylene glycol—glycol for short—is heated to 180 degrees and sprayed on planes before they take off.After the de-icing fluid is sprayed on an airplane, ground personnel place their hands on the leading edges of the plane’s wings to check for frost. Boyd says pilots have only a limited amount of time—six to 45 minutes depending on weather conditions—after a plane has been de-iced to take off. If that time is surpassed, the plane must be de-iced again.Even when runways are clear, he says, slowdowns can occur…

"It may not necessarily be the conditions of the runway. I mean, very often the runway is clear and people can take off and land, but there's that issue of ice on the airplane, and let's suppose it's a freezing rain situation, from the point that that glycol starts to go on the plane, there's about a six minute window they have 'til they can get that plane in the air, and that's a very difficult window to meet, and there are times at every airport in the northern part of the country where you may have to de-ice an airplane 3 or 4 times before it actually gets in the air."

Because of the importance of keeping planes ice-free, Boyd says there’s talk that the FAA might enact stricter requirements concerning de-icing and keeping ice off wings in flight.He reminds fliers that the time it takes to de-ice an airplane is worth it…

"It seems like a very slow process to customers when they're sitting in that airplane, and the engines are roaring, and you're in there, and you're cramped, and you're thinking, 'well, why the heck aren't we going somewhere?' You know, the bottom line is that you don't want that plane to fall out of the sky, so I would tell people who get impatient with that process to take a deep breath and lean back, and, you know, relax."

According to Boyd, there are even times in summer when an airplane needs to be de-iced. He says the fuel in some planes gets very cold at high altitudes, and when an airplane lands, the fuel is still cold and frost can form on the wings.For KSMU News, I’m Michele Skalicky.