How does Aircraft De-icing Work?

During the winter months, many people are used to getting up a bit early to prepare their vehicle for travel. This can be as simple as turning on a remote start or as cumbersome as snow brushing an entire car and scraping ice off the windshield. Many wonder if the process is the same for airplanes. Aircraft de-icing can be a bit more complicated.

Importance of De-icing

Aircraft are able to fly by generating, and sustaining, lift. Lift is achieved by the change of direction and pressure of air. Snow and ice on an aircraft disrupt the ability of the plane to create the needed effect on airflow, preventing the ability to lift-off or sustain flight.


The first step in the process is removing any snow or ice that is already on the aircraft. This is known as de-icing the aircraft. To do this, a ground crew uses Type 1 de-icing fluid. This compound is only used to remove snow and ice that are already on the aircraft, it does not prevent ice formation during or after take-off. The solution is available as concentrate or pre-mixed. De-icing Type 1 fluid is orange to ensure even application.

Ground crews apply the de-icing fluid to the entire aircraft. Type 1 fluid is applied is sprayed onto the aircraft hot (temperatures are suggested between 130 – 180 degrees Fahrenheit). The spray is applied to wings beginning at the tip and working back towards the fuselage. Next, de-icing fluid is applied to the tail, fuselage, and any other areas of the aircraft. Direct application to windows is avoided as this can cause window seal deterioration.

If there is no falling snow or freezing rain, this may be all that is required to prep the aircraft for flight. In inclement weather, a second step may be necessary. Aircraft may require anti-icing in this scenario.


Anti-icing is used to prevent ice from forming on the aircraft during or after take-off. To accomplish this, a different type of compound must be used that will adhere to the aircraft during take-off and flight. Type 4 fluid is applied for this purpose. The consistency of Type 4 anti-icing fluid is thicker and colored green. Type 4 fluid is only applied after the initial de-icing has taken place. Once the anti-icing fluid has been applied to the aircraft, it is able to leave.

Flight Systems

De-icing and anti-icing sprays aren’t the only line of defense, aircraft have built-in systems to combat ice formation. Heat systems are used to prevent icing, the heat generated by the engines is circulated to the wings and tail in this situation. Other aircraft use inflation systems that use objects to break-up forming ice.

Multiple safeguards are in place to prevent safety concerns caused by snow and ice accumulation. De-icing is very common and gets the aircraft ready for flight. Anti-icing is used, as needed, for extra protection during take-off and flight when temperatures are low or in precipitation conditions. Aircraft have built-in systems to stay prevent ice build-up during flight.