US airports face a shortage of runway de-icing fluid just as they go into the winter season, and although alternative products are available, they are considerably more expensive.

The FAA told airports in a recent memo that they face "a severe shortage" of potassium acetate, which is the main raw material in the most popular de-icing fluids. Michael O'Donnell, FAA's director of airport safety and standards, says that a long strike at potash mines in Canada led to the shortage of this basic material. He says the agency has tested some new runway de-icing fluids and explains that they acted comparably to the traditional mix of propylene-glycol with urea and poastassium acetate.

O'Donnell notes that even though the miners strike has been settled, "it will take time to build up stockpiles, possibly until February, so the alternatives may have to be used". FAA's memo to airports asked airports to develop contingency plans to deal with winter conditions.

A major supplier of fluids, Fort Madison, Iowa-based Cryotech Deicing Technology, notes on its website that most of its runway de-icing products "will be in short supply." Cryotech is a unit of General Atomics.

Some airports say they do not anticipate major problems but that their costs will go up, and the majority of airports responding to an ACI-NA survey said they saw their raw materials costs rising this winter.

At the Metropolitan Airports Commission, which runs the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport, "we are seeing our costs rise. The popular Cryotech E36 product has gone up from $2.50 a gallon to $3.25 gallon, but is impossible to get, and the FAA-approved alternative is about $7.00 a gallon," spokesman Patrick Hogan says. O'Donnell of the FAA's airports sections says, "It all depends on the weather this winter. We don't know what the winter will be like."

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news