Aircraft Snow Removal System Cuts Costs and Protects the Environment

PROBLEM: Ethylene glycol, a toxic chemical used to melt snow on airplanes at airports, usually runs off the airplane onto the pavement and into streams or ground water. New airplane snow removal methods are needed to avoid the expense and pollution associated with the ethylene glycol snow removal process. Snow must be removed from airplanes before takeoff for flight safety. Yet, Environmental Protection Agency has recently placed glycol on the hazardous materials list. When glycol runoff seeps into ground water, it can contaminate water wells. To retain and neutralize this glycol runoff, some cities are installing multi-million-dollar catch basins.

SOLUTION: The Air Force Research Laboratory Air Vehicles Directorate (AFRL/VA) and independent inventor, Lee Williams developed a high efficiency forced air snow remover.  It uses compressed air to blow snow off of airplane wings and then puts a thin film of glycol on the cleaned wing to melt any residual ice. Often, the system can produce a clean wing in a single step, without using any glycol. Even when glycol use is required to complete the snow removal process, the needed quantity can be reduced by 70 percent, compared to glycol alone.

The blower's cost savings impact every aspect of the glycol life cycle: acquisition, storage, heating, collection, recovery and disposal. Such cost reductions are significant, as glycol costs $4 to $5 per gallon, while the associated life cycle costs total between $15 and $20 per gallon. Removing six inches of snow with just glycol, from one airplane can cost more than $30,000.

A prototype system was initially tested with United Airlines during the winter of 1993-94 at Denver's Stapleton Airport. The inventor approached Wright Technology Network (WTN) to get assistance to improve the product performance, to reduce the cost of the system, and to make it easier to manufacture.

WTN helped the inventor get a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) to improve the blower system. AFRL used its in-depth knowledge of aerodynamics to redesign the nozzle while making other recommendations to improve the performance of the air delivery hose and the total system. AFRL's improvements increased the air speed by 50% but reduced the required horsepower by 75%.

WTN provided start-up business advice resulting in the creation of a new company, Aviation Environmental Compliance, Inc. The inventor has licensed the system to FMC Airport Systems, Inc., the largest manufacturer of de-icing trucks and to Global Ground Support, LLC.  Global trademarked their version as AIR PLUS.


  • Uses 70-90 percent less glycol per plane, reducing glycol pollution.
  • Can pay for itself in one season of airplane snow removing.
  • With thousands of snow removing trucks worldwide, society could save billions of dollars in glycol use and disposal as well as catch basin construction.
  • Removes snow from wings in less time with equal effectiveness.


  • Aviation Environmental Compliance received a 1995 Thomas Edison Emerging Technology Award from the Ohio Department of Development.
  • Federal Express, Airborne, and United purchased test units.
  • WTN has alerted Midwest mayors whose cities own airports about the cost savings and pollution reduction of AIR FIRST ™ .
  • AFRL received a U.S. patent on improvements in the nozzle and forced air system design.
  • FMC demonstrated AIR FIRST to numerous airlines in January and February 1998 at the Buffalo. NY and Chicago airports.
  • US Air Force purchased 40 trucks with forced air and requested bids on 180 more.
  • Global is demonstrating AIR PLUS at the Emery hub at the Dayton, Ohio Airport.
If you have any questions about this Cooperative Research and Development Agreement or are interested in getting more information about technology transfer and CRADA projects, please contact Jim Singer at Wright Technology Network (937) 253-0217 or CRADA@wtn.org

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