Jet-fueled jobs: Deicing planes a key part of Delta’s winter operation

When there’s frost on the ground in the wee hours of the morning, that’s when Delta Air Lines’ deicing team springs into action. Wayne Saxon, a Delta ramp worker specially trained to deice aircraft, starts the day at 4:30 a.m., standing ready to treat the planes with deicing fluid to make them safe to fly. Video by Ryon Horne and Kelly Yamanouchi

This is an occasional series giving a behind-the-scenes look at airport jobs.

Whether there's a snowstorm in Chicago or sleet in Atlanta, travelers still need to get to their destinations — and there's a core team of Delta Air Lines employees who help keep airplanes operating safely in wintry weather.

A team of a dozen core deicing workers at Delta manage the deployment of deicing trucks and trained deicers to keep hundreds of flights taking off from Hartsfield-Jackson International in frosty conditions.

When people ask Wayne Saxon what he does for a living and he tells them he deices aircraft, a common response he gets is, "In Atlanta?"

"And then I explain to them, 'You know when you get up in the morning and you have that frost on your windshield? We're more than likely spraying aircraft (with deicing fluid) that morning, because the frost affects the airflow over the top of the wings."

Delta has deiced planes in Atlanta more than 40 days this winter.

In a demonstration of how Delta planes go through a process of deicing in frigid whether, a worker sprays a colored solution on the entire plane before it can take off. 
In a demonstration of how Delta planes go through a process of deicing in frigid whether, a worker sprays a colored solution on the entire plane before it can take off. 

In the airline's quest to operate more flights on time in adverse circumstances, the carrier has added 20 deicing trucks at its hub at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and two deicing simulators to keep hundreds of workers trained to deice aircraft. In the future, Hartsfield-Jackson plans to spend more than $100 million for a project to add large deicing pads on the south side of the airfield.

A Delta worker demonstrates the deicing process. 
A Delta worker demonstrates the deicing process. 

Saxon likes the change of pace of deicing from his regular year-round job as a Delta ramp agent, loading bags and driving tugs around the tarmac. In preparation for the winter season, he helps to train hundreds of Delta workers on how to deice a plane. And before big snowstorms are about to hit, he deploys to other airports around the country.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Saxon said. “You’re 40 feet in the air sometimes and you’re just moving around an aircraft spraying fluid. It doesn’t sound like as much fun as it is.”

A Delta worker demonstrates how to spray a colored deicing solution on the entire plane before it can take off. 
A Delta worker demonstrates how to spray a colored deicing solution on the entire plane before it can take off. 

New AJC airport jobs video series

Our new AJC.com video series, Jet-Fueled Jobs, gives a behind-the-scenes look at the people who keep the world’s busiest airport running. About 63,000 people work at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, making it the largest job site in the state. Among them is Wayne Saxon, who deices aircraft for Delta Air Lines and keeps them safe to fly.

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