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New de-icing facility speeds up FedEx cargo flights at Memphis hub

Memphis International Airport, home to FedEx Express’ global air hub, on Tuesday inaugurated a large centralized de-icing facility that officials say will reduce the likelihood of delays for cargo and passenger aircraft during winter weather and environmental impact.

The 3.3 million-square-foot zone at the Tennessee airport has space to simultaneously de-ice 12 widebody aircraft, such as the Boeing 777. One pad can accommodate a Boeing 747-8 freighter or two narrowbody aircraft, according to the Memphis Airport Authority.

Airlines will be able to spray planes with glycol quicker and more efficiently than before, helping FedEx Express deliver packages on time, local and federal officials said.

The U.S. Department of Transportation provided more than half the money for the $309 million project through an Airport Improvement Program grant. 

“Memphis International Airport is the biggest cargo airport in the country, and this innovative aircraft de-icing facility is one of the many ways we’re modernizing America’s supply chains,” said Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttegieg, who attended the opening ceremony. 

Federal Aviation Administration officials said de-icing planes near the runway right before takeoff instead of at the gate reduces the need to spread de-icing chemicals a second time under freezing conditions, allowing for more efficient movement of aircraft and minimizing delays. 

Aircraft, even with the slightest amount of moisture in the air, will collect frost and ice on their surfaces, which has to be removed for them to fly safely.

A control tower manages aircraft ground traffic to and from the de-icing facility. Pilots are aided by electronic message boards at each bay and at queuing locations, eliminating the need for audio communication. An in-pavement lighting guidance system eliminates the need for guide vehicles or marshallers and infrared cameras help position airplanes in the de-icing bays.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttegieg describes how a DOT grant for de-icing infrastructure at Memphis airport will help get cargo planes in the sky quicker. (Photo: U.S. DOT)

Conducting de-icing in a central location also is more environmentally sustainable. The new facility has a segregated drainage system that prevents untreated de-icing chemicals from draining into local water supplies. The fluid’s release is metered into the sanitary sewer system, where it breaks down and helps sanitize city wastewater, according to the DOT.

Richard W. Smith, president and CEO of FedEx Express (NYSE: FDX), praised the consolidated de-icing facility, saying it will improve operational efficiency. “The timing could not be better as FedEx enters the busy holiday season.”

FedEx turboprop planes will continue to get ice treatment at their parking ramps.

During his visit, Secretary Buttigieg toured ground de-icing operations and met with FedEx aircraft

pilots, de-icing truck operators and workers before receiving a briefing on how the pads improve efficiency, safety and sustainability. The FAA issues Airport Improvement Program grants on an annual basis, but the DOT portrayed the Memphis investment as an example of how the Biden administration is working to reduce supply chain disruptions and inflation.

Last week, the FAA awarded more than $76 million to 85 airports for snowplows, de-icing equipment and new or upgraded buildings to store winter equipment. Rickenbacker International Airport, a cargo-only airport near Columbus, Ohio, received $3.7 million for snow removal equipment.

Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.

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