Aircraft de-icing failure

As the airport director of Ronaldsway airport, I’d like to respond to the letter from Nick Robins in Lincolnshire.

Firstly I’d like to say I’m personally very sorry for the delays incurred to easyJet passengers during the period Saturday, January 19, to Tuesday, January 21.

On the Saturday and Sunday easyJet cancelled their flights ‘due to widespread disruption to their flights throughout Europe and the fact that they had many aircraft impacted downline’.

This is fully understandable really, as they will have had aircraft stuck in various parts of Europe. However the Flybe flights to/from Gatwick operated throughout both days, although on Sunday, January 20, there were runway slots delays at Gatwick, and Ronaldsway stayed open until 11pm to get their last Gatwick flight back home.

Regarding the easyJet ‘delayed’ flight from Monday, January 21, until Tuesday, January 22, this flight was delayed due to the principle there was no serviceable de-icing rig available at Ronaldsway.

As some may know, as the airport operator of Isle of Man Airport, the Department of Infrastructure is responsible for the de-icing of the facilities we operate/provide, which in essence is the airfield, the runway and taxiways and the terminal buildings (and forecourt and public car parking areas).

Aircraft de-icing is the responsibility of the handling agents. The handling agents are contracted by the airlines to handle/look after the aircraft services including passenger check-in, aircraft turnaround procedures and aircraft de-icing amongst other tasks. (The airport does not handle aircraft – like most airports – nor have its own handling agent).

At around 11am on Monday (January 21), the handling agent who looks after easyJet, BA and Flybe (among others) reported to me and their customer airlines, that their aircraft de-icing rig had had a catastrophic failure and needed some new parts, and they would need some specialist engineering assistance. So, on Monday afternoon, as a result of the principle that there was no serviceable aircraft de-icing rig at Ronaldsway, easyJet immediately cancelled their Liverpool and Gatwick flights. Flybe and BA continued to operate all their programmed scheduled flights.

A specialist engineer arrived on island the following morning from Gatwick, via Flybe, to try and fix the rigs, which was accomplished at 1500 hours that afternoon (28 hours after the failure). In addition the handling agent brought over a rig to the island from Belfast, which arrived in the early hours of Wednesday, January 22.

The handling agent has certainly come under fire from their customers, and passengers, for having no ‘spare’ second rig. These rigs cost between £500,000 and £700,000 and to have a spare one at a small regional airport, just in case, is a huge expense on the books, especially as the last time the rig was used in earnest on the Isle of Man, was back at the tail end of 2010 when there was severe winter weather conditions. Nevertheless, I am sure the handling agent will look to consider having a spare rig at this regional island airport.

Sometimes aircraft have technical problems but sometimes handling equipment also has technical problems. On behalf of the handling agent may I extend sincere apologies to Nick Robins and the other easyJet passengers.

Ann Reynolds

Airport director

Ronaldsway Airport


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