Carroll McCormick explains how IceGuard brings aircraft deicing management and data collection into the 21st Century.
The deicing operator climbs aboard truck 22, powers up the dashboard-mounted IceGuard Vehicle Module (VM) and logs in with his RFID security card. The VM display shows that the truck has full tanks of Type I and Type IV glycol. Tapping the VM touch screen, the deicing operator checks the ambient temperature and weather forecast. The VM has already calculated the Type I glycol freeze point.
In the deicing pad tower, the deicing manager uses an IceGuard Pad Control Module (PCM) to drag and drop one of a list of waiting aircraft onto Deicing Pad Alpha, Slot-1, Position-1 of the deicing pad. A graphic of the aircraft glides into place. The deicing manager notices that truck 22, represented graphically as ‘22’ inside a circle, is available. He sends a message to the deicing operator’s VM with instructions to go to Deicing Pad Alpha, Slot-1, Position-1.
The aircraft has arrived at Deicing Pad Alpha, Slot-1, Position-1 and the pilot has configured his aircraft for deicing. He informs the pad manager: “Aircraft tail number 123 is configured for deicing.” On his PCM the pad manager changes the colour of the box around the aircraft graphic from red to green and sends a message to truck 22 to begin deicing.
The deicing operator selects the aircraft condition; eg, heavy snow or ice, on an aircraft graphic on his VM, with the numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4 at the four corners of the plane (pilot front, co-pilot front, pilot tail and co-pilot tail) he selects 1 – the area he has been assigned to deice.
The instant he begins, his VM automatically logs the deicing start time and starts counting the glycol usage. On the PCM the graphic of truck 22 is now inside a flashing orange triangle: the operator is spraying Type I. When the deicing operator switches to Type IV the flashing triangle turns green.
All the while, a stream of data from the VM, which will include the elapsed time of this deicing, quantities of Type I and IV used, aircraft and driver information are transmitting at user-selected intervals – as close to real time as the user wishes – via a cellular network to a Central Management Module (CMM), a third component of IceGuard, and onward to the PCM.
Deicing completed, truck 22’s flashing triangle turns grey and the aircraft is released to exit the pad.
Via a web interface, airline deicing managers and anyone else with reason to be in the data loop can access the CMM from anywhere and view, in real time, extensive data on this airport’s deicing activities. They can prepare billing reports, assemble data into trends and even analyse truck engine data that the VM can collect via the J1939 serial bus. The VM eliminates manual data collection and after-event data entry.
IceGuard can also be used without the VM: operators collect deicing information with pen and paper and key it into the CMM later.
This brief sketch gives an idea of how IceGuard promises to revolutionise the management of aircraft deicing operations. It is already in use at the Charlotte/Douglas Airport (CLT) in North Carolina – the world’s seventh-busiest in 2010.
IceGuard debuted in the 2010-11 season at CLT as the airport began a changeover from US Airways-owned deicing trucks and deicing to CLT-controlled services, 28 new airport-owned Global Ground Support trucks and a management service contract with Contego Systems LLC.
Contego recommended IceGuard to CLT when the airport was writing the performance specifications for the deicing management contract Request for Proposal. CLT comments: “The Aviata system was included in the truck specifications, based on Contego’s recommendation.”
Bill Dempsey is one of the Directors of Contego and temporary General Manager of its CLT operation. He explains the attraction of IceGuard: “You have to record every operation for the Federal Aviation Administration [FAA] but operators come in at the end of the day with all that data and you don’t know if it is accurate or not. There is no audit trail to the beginning and end of each operation or the [amount of glycol used]. We had been trying to develop our own programme for a couple of years, and IceGuard had many more features than we had been able to develop, particularly text messaging and drag and drop of aircraft. It [enabled] fluid management and pad management.”
IceGuard is the brainchild of David Condliffe, Chief Technology Officer and founder of Colchester, Vermont-based Aviata Systems, Inc. He is a professional software developer with an electronics and engineering background and a quarter century of experience with big hitters like IBM, the Royal Mail, NATO and the Royal Navy.
During a lull in his professional contracts, Mr Condliffe tried his hand at aircraft deicing. When he saw what deicing operators were expected to do and he then experienced it, he exclaimed to himself, “This is ridiculous. There has to be a better way than this. You have a guy with a $500,000 truck operating ten feet away from an aircraft worth $200 million, with another guy in the boom, all the while filling out as many as 30 fields on a clipboard. A lot of operators are not completing forms. They ask each other how much they think they sprayed, what their start/stop times were, etc. They basically get scared of trying to write on clipboards as they work.”
The developer in Condliffe started plotting. “I thought that I could do it better,” he recalls. To learn how deicing management was done, Condliffe began working as a deicing truck operator. “I trained as a deicing truck operator, then as a static boom operator and finally as a pad manager,” he relates.
He built an IceGuard proof of concept in 2005. In 2006 he brought Ross Carlson on board as a partner and Aviata’s Vice President and Director of software development. Also a professional Software Developer, Mr Carlson has a solid background in user interface design. His experience includes founding the technology services provider Metacraft, developing the SimScope air traffic control training system currently in use at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and working three years as a pilot with the Civil Air Patrol (United States Air Force Auxiliary) Emergency Services division.
Aviata test-drove the IceGuard prototypes at several airports during, for example, autumn deicing training. “We talked to a number of deicing companies and we piggybacked on them. We trialled IceGuard at airports like Detroit, Pittsburg and Portland. We have it in a couple of trucks at John F Kennedy. We had equipment at Chicago O’Hare to demonstrate the VM integration into Vestergaard trucks,” Condliffe says.
The IceGuard DCM and CMM have been piloted at Anchorage but, Condliffe says, “Aviata is not using the VM there yet, as we are working through compatibility issues with Alaska’s cellular network.”
Condliffe gives a lot of credit to good timing for the keen interest that airports and deicing providers are showing in IceGuard: “The FAA and Environmental Protection Agency concerns about glycol have made airlines and deicing companies realise that they would have to account for all their glycol use, and that airports would have to account for glycol recovery.”
In May 2010 Aviata and Contego formed a joint venture and in June 2011 Contego and Manchester, New Hampshire-based Integrated Deicing Services (IDS) formed a strategic alliance. If Contego and IDS win a bid to provide deicing services at the Philadelphia airport, IceGuard will be used there, according to Condliffe. With 19 airports between Contego and IDS, IceGuard could quickly see widespread adoption.
“Our intent is to make IceGuard part of our operations at any of our airports,” Dempsey says.
IceGuard can be used regardless of the deicing truck type. The VM can tap into the temperature sensors and flow meters of newer trucks and collect those data. For older trucks, the deicing operators key in these values.
Condliffe experimented with different solutions for collecting aircraft data and for transmitting IceGuard data. Eventually he settled on using readily available aircraft and flight schedule data and using standard cellular networks to transmit data between the IceGuard modules.
To assist the high percentage of deicing truck operators in any given year with no experience, the VM incorporates several aids. For example, deicing operators can open a dropdown menu of aircraft types in the Aircraft Help window. Clicking one of them will open a graphic of that aircraft type, with the image coloured to show where deicing fluid is to be applied, and where it must not. A Radio Dialogue Scripts window contains a selection of text, which can be customised by each airline, to help the deicing operator correctly address the pilot.
There are many tools in CMM, such as Dashboard, Reports, Transactions and Employees. Another window shows the other carriers for which an airline provides deicing. An airline’s staff can generate reports for deicing operations at any airport at which it operates and where IceGuard is installed. “You can see information for multiple airports with nothing more than a web interface,” Condliffe says.
IceGuard is already able to manage deicing operations at a world-class airport like CLT. Yet Aviata is already building and prototyping an enhancement called dynamic pad management. Condliffe hints at its capabilities, which he believes will greatly improve aircraft throughput: “It will advise the ramp controller which pads are currently free and which pads have a better throughput by aircraft type. It will make recommendations on where the ramp controller can send aircraft. It will give real-time feedback and pad efficiency; for example, it will say that Pad C will be free in 10 minutes and that Pad D will be tied up for 20 minutes. This will change the way airports think and how they treat their deicing resources.”