Winter is coming...

Winter is coming...

Airports across the world use de-icing products to enable safe taxiing, take-off and landing. This is a Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) requirement to ensure passenger safety. 

Ricardo is assisting several small and large airports in how they respond to higher volumes of runoff containing elevated levels of de-icer. This article provides a helpful ‘Top 10’ checklist that airports can adopt to mitigate the effects of the freezing conditions caused by the so-called ‘Beast from the East’ / storm Emma.

When combined with larger volumes of surface water runoff (e.g. as a result of rainfall or snow melt), increased de-icer use may result in the ‘perfect storm’ – winter storage lagoons can run out of capacity or additional treatment may be required to keep discharges within permit limits to ensure environmental protection.

If any problems develop that cause a discharge of increased levels of de-icers to the environment, then this can result in reduced oxygen levels in the receiving waterbody (as a result of the breakdown of organic matter within the de-icer mixture by bacteria). This can be harmful to aquatic life. In extreme cases, prolonged discharges of de-icers can result in the growth of sewage fungus.


It is important that airport operators remain compliant with any discharge permits in place. According to the Environment Agency, while the number of serious pollution incidents are decreasing, courts have taken a harder line when dealing with polluters. As a result, over the last 12 months, fines for UK water companies alone were in excess of £5 million, compared to total fines of £3.5 million for over 1,000 pollution incidents occurring between 2005 and 2013. Any prosecution case can damage a company’s reputation and relationships with key stakeholders. Therefore, it has become more important than ever to ensure that appropriate management plans, systems and monitoring is in place to ensure compliance is achieved or maintained.

As we prepare to protect ourselves from the 'Beast from the East' / storm Emma, my ‘Top 10’ winter checklist for airport winter management is:


Are all my discharges to controlled waters (groundwater, surface water, estuaries) permitted and if so, under what legislation and what are the conditions? Any unpermitted discharges can be an aggravating feature, whilst stringent conditions can increase the risk of unlawful discharges.


Is there enough capacity in the surface water system? Consider any recent developments (e.g. new aprons, taxiways) on-site, but also consider off-site developments (e.g. car parks) which can affect the quantity of run-off.


Are all my discharges covered by basic pollution protection (e.g. interceptors) and are they checked and maintained regularly? 


What de-icer is being used, how much is used, when is it used and how does it affect the environment? 


How is the de-icer being treated and how is really poor-quality water dealt with (including the first flush ). What other chemicals are being stored and in what quantity?   


What is the capacity of the receiving waterbody to deal with increased de-icer discharges (e.g. does it have sensitive features)? 


Are all checks and balances in place (management plans, monitoring, spillage, contingency plans)? 


Are you keeping records of de-icer application rate, location and type


Do you know what to do if permit conditions are exceeded?


Do you know who to call if things go wrong?

If your answer to any of the above is 'I’m not sure' then i'd be happy to discuss this with you further.