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Clearing a plane of snow is deicing on the cake

Deicing crews atop cranes spray down a plane at Toronto Pearson Airport's deicing facility.

Kevin Van Paassen/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

In Toronto's largest deicing facility, preparation for Wednesday's snowstorm meant preparing deicing fluid the day before, calling in additional staff and keeping them rested in hotels the night before.

The Central Deicing Facility at Toronto's Pearson International Airport is the largest in the world, with six deicing bays that can hold up to 12 aircraft at a time. About 10,500 aircraft are deiced every season. The time needed to clean an aircraft for takeoff can range from two to 19 minutes, depending on the weather, airport spokeswoman Patricia Krale said.

Deicing airplanes, which is common procedure for major airports across Canada, is vital for airline safety in the winter, and a required activity under Canadian aviation regulations.

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Deicing is done through spraying a fluid, usually a heated glycol-and-water mixture, that removes frost, ice or snow from surfaces. Crews in deicing trucks with cranes on top spray the aircraft, usually in deicing bays, or, at airports that don't have designated facilities, on pads similar to ramps. The cranes on the Pearson deicing truck can reach up to 15 metres.

At Edmonton International Airport, deicing crews start around 3 a.m., according to Sarah Meffen, a spokeswoman for Edmonton International Airport.

On days of -1 degree and below, two deicing trucks and four crew members at work is common at the airport. The cranes on Edmonton's deicing trucks can reach up to six metres or more, depending on the size of the aircraft.

"We also manage [the]environment by using 'vacuum trucks' which literally suck up the glycol," Ms. Meffen said.

Before the Winnipeg Airports Authority had its own facility, each airline did its own deicing. Since fluid had to be collected from each airline's pads after deicing, it was difficult when pads were in located in different areas.

"Our environmental footprint had to be better," said Christine Alongi, director of communications and pubic affairs at Winnipeg Airports Authority.

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