Transportation Secretary calls airport de-icing facility “the future of infrastructure”

Published: Nov. 29, 2022 at 7:06 PM CST

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The Memphis International Airport (MEM) added another item to the Bluff City’s resume as a leading, global logistics hub.

On Tuesday, the airport announced the opening of the $309 million Consolidated De-Icing Facility (CDF).

3.3 million square feet of space will be used to make planes safer for travel during winter months, especially during the holiday shopping period, which is expected to streamline processes at FedEx and lower the cost of shipping.

This, in turn, could lower the cost for consumers, as well.

“It looks like just an ocean of pavement, but it’s much more complicated than that,” said Scott Brockman, President and CEO of the Memphis Shelby County Airport Authority.

The project, which took ten years to complete according to Brockman, features twelve de-icing pads that can fit a Boeing 777F size aircraft.

Of the $309 million, $174 million came from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and according to Brockman, $80 million of those federal funds were discretionary.

“ that means that they had to view this project as being critical enough to the national airspace system in order to invest,” Brockman said.

“This is the biggest cargo hub in North America,” said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “And so, it is something of global importance, certainly of importance to the U.S. economy.”

The CDF is being touted by transportation officials like Buttigieg, who traveled to the Bluff City on Tuesday to help announce its opening.

On one of the de-icing pads, Pete Buttigieg met with members of the de-icing team and airport leaders to see firsthand what the process looks like.

“When you see a present under the tree, you’re not thinking to yourself, “‘I wonder how they de-iced the plane that took this present to where it was going so it could come to my doorstep,’” the Transportation Secretary said. “The thing about supply chains is it’s all connected.”

“The timing could not be better as FedEx enters the busy holiday season,” said FedEx Express President and CEO, Richard Smith. “This facility is a shining example of how we can help ensure our team members are safely operating throughout the winter season as we deliver outstanding service for our customers.”

Some supply chain concerns still linger from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Buttigieg, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

“Last year, there were 100 ships waiting their turn at the port of LA Long Beach,” Buttigieg said. “The last time I checked, that was below a dozen, so there have been enormous improvements for our supply chains. We’re not letting go; we’re not taking it easy. There’s more work to do, including longer-term work, which is what facilities like this de-icing ramp and a whole lot of other investment we’re making around the country.”

Some may think ‘De-ice in Memphis?’

We’re told the need is certainly here, given the number of planes leaving the airport and the fact that some planes can form frost or ice on their exterior in temperatures as high as 52°.

“Every one of those aircraft come into Memphis in the middle of the night,” Brockman said. “They’re here during the coldest part of the day... in order to be safe, they have to be de-iced.”

While MEM is the busiest cargo airport in the U.S., it’s also the second busiest in the world.

Outside the airport, Memphis is the third busiest trucking corridor in the U.S., with the fourth largest inland port on the Mississippi River.

Back at CDF, one of the features Buttigieg was impressed with was the 1.5 miles of trench drain that gathers the Glycol that’s sprayed onto planes, storing the fluid in an underground 2.5 million gallon tank to be reused.

“That’s what it means to have both cost-effective and environmentally responsible investments,” Buttigieg said. “That’s what I think the future of infrastructure is going to look like.”

“I believe this will be a benchmark for every other airport in the country,” Brockman said. “This facility will be one of the most technologically advanced de-ice facilities anywhere in the world.”

The CDF is not just for FedEx but will also be used by the military and commercial aircraft, though it was admitted much of the planes coming in will be from FedEx.

Buttigieg said the CDF and other streamlining investments in air travel, “is good news for every air passenger.”

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