The federal government warns airlines that flights could face disruptions this winter because of a severe shortage of the primary chemical used to keep runways free from snow and ice.
A 99-day strike by Canadian potash mine workers forced companies to halt production of runway de-icing fluid, according to industry officials, the government and airports. Potash is a form of potassium, a primary ingredient in the de-icing fluid.
Officials at large airports that frequently become snowbound vowed to keep flights moving by using alternate chemicals. Even if air travel does not face interruptions, the shortage will cost cash-strapped airports millions of dollars in higher costs and the alternative chemicals cause greater environmental problems, according to the officials.
The strike ended last month, but the industry and government officials estimate it will take months to get production ramped up. Cryotech, a major manufacturer, estimated that it would produce 2 million to 3 million gallons of the de-icing fluid (potassium acetate) this winter compared with 9 million last winter, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
“It is possible that runways may not be able to be maintained to the same level as previous years during winter storms,” said an FAA memo sent to airlines Oct. 29. That could prompt a reduction in the typical flow of takeoffs and landings during storms, the memo said.
There is no shortage of the de-icing fluid used to spray aircraft, which uses a different chemical.