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Company Hopes To Take Planes Off Ice With Infrared Heat

April 12, 1995

CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (AP) _ John Chew and Timothy Seel think they have an alternative to costly, messy methods of de-icing airplanes by hosing them down with antifreeze.

Their solution: Drive passenger planes through a shed resembling a monstrous carwash near the runway and toast ice off the wings with infrared heat, a technique they said could cut de-icing costs by 90 percent or more.

Chew and Seel’s research firm, Process Technologies Inc., and federal aviation officials Wednesday showed off a prototype of their InfraTek system they have been testing at the Buffalo airport in suburban Cheektowaga.

``It has the potential to replace chemical de-icing,″ said Jim White, project manager for the Federal Aviation Administration Technical Center in Atlantic City, N.J. ``It’s a completely new approach to de-icing an aircraft.″

Ice on the wings can impair an airplane’s lift and handling. Ice buildup has been a prime suspect in the fatal crash last October of an American Eagle commuter plane in Roselawn, Ind. The crash, which killed 68 people, prompted the FAA to ground similar planes in icy conditions.

Airports now spray planes with chemical de-icers, mainly glycol, to remove ice before takeoff. That can cost $2,000 or more for jetliners, White said. Process Technologies estimates its infrared system which will cost about $1.4 million, can do the same job for $200 or less a plane.

Another advantage is that airports are under pressure from environmental agencies to contain chemical de-icers so they don’t pollute water and sewer systems. Using infrared heat wouldn’t leave behind any toxic residue.

But the system has a disadvantage, said Andy Cebula, vice president of the National Air Transportation Association in Washington, D.C. It would not keep ice from building up again, he said.

``Once that airplane was done de-icing, it would have to get on the runway and get going and get off the ground right away before it ices over again,″ Cebula said.

That could be a problem at busy airports such as O’Hare in Chicago or Kennedy in New York City, where traffic tie-ups could cause delays and allow ice to build up again on planes.

The company initially plans to market the system to less-busy regional airports, said Chew, who is president of Process Technologies.

Chew and Seel, who worked together at a heating company, began developing their system three years ago after installing an infrared space-heating system at an airplane hangar.

``One day I said to Tim, `Couldn’t we de-ice airplanes the same way?‴ said Chew, president of Process Technologies.

Using their system, passengers would board a plane, which would taxi toward the runway and park in a shed where natural-gas burners produce infrared energy that could remove ice from the craft in six minutes.

It’s similar to the technology fast-food restaurants use to keep French fries warm, only on a grand scale, Seel said.

``It’s no more harmful to humans than sunlight, and probably less so because there’s no ultraviolet,″ Seel said.

In tests on an FAA plane during a frost last week, the ice was burned off but the temperature inside the aircraft didn’t change, even after sitting under the infrared heaters for up to two hours, said Armando Gaetano, FAA manager of aircraft engineering and modification.

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