Memphis Airport’s New De-icing Pads Boost Cargo Transport

Nighttime activity at FedEx's superhub at Memphis International Airport
Nighttime activity at FedEx's superhub at Memphis International Airport. (FedEx via YouTube)

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Federal officials unveiled a 3.3 million-square-foot aircraft de-icing pad at Memphis International Airport, where FedEx Corp. has its largest sorting facility, to help cargo planes transport holiday goods faster and more efficiently this season.

“Memphis International Airport is the biggest cargo airport in the country, and this innovative aircraft de-icing facility is one of the many ways we’re modernizing America’s supply chains,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg proclaimed Nov. 29. “This holiday season and every season, it’s critical that American families and businesses get the goods they need when they need them.”

The large pads simultaneously can de-ice 12 wide-body cargo airplanes. Project innovations include new message boards that eliminate the need for audio communication with pilots and infrared cameras to help position airplanes in de-icing bays. Also new taxiway lead-in lights mean aircraft no longer need follow-me vehicles or marshallers.

Pete Buttigieg


De-icing in a central pad instead of at a gate enables planes to leave sooner, reducing the need to de-ice an aircraft again.

“Innovative projects like this are key to improving safety, increasing efficiency and advancing sustainability across the country,” said A. Bradley Mims, deputy administrator for the Federal Aviation Administration. FAA contributed $174 million to the $330 million project cost.

Having more environmentally friendly de-icing procedures with wider safety margins, the new pads have a segregated drainage system and large-volume containers to collect de-icing fluid. The fluid’s release is metered into a sanitary sewer system where it breaks down and helps sanitize city wastewater.

FedEx Express CEO Richard Smith attended the opening event and thanked DOT, FAA and Memphis airport officials for supporting the de-icing project.

“The timing could not be better as FedEx enters the busy holiday season. This facility is a shining example of how we can help ensure our team members are safely operating throughout the winter season,” Smith said, adding that it demonstrates how technological improvements can increase operational efficiency.

Shannetta Griffin


In fiscal 2022, FAA awarded more than $76.2 million to 85 airports in 28 states in for snowplows, de-icing equipment and new or upgraded buildings to store the equipment.

“We can’t let winter weather stop aircraft from safely landing and taking off. This funding will help keep airports operating this winter and get passengers and cargo to their work, families and vacations safely,” FAA Associate administrator Shannetta Griffin said Nov. 23.

Cold Cash

Other airports receiving federal funds for de-icing facilities:

•  Atlantic City (N.J.)  International Airport, $9.7 million to construct a de-icing containment facility

•   Great Falls (Mont.) International Airport, $3.3 million for a de-icing pad

•   Williston (N.D.) Basin International Airport, $278,000 for a de-icing pad

FAA also granted $46.2 million to buy snow removal equipment at Ted Stevens International Airport in Alaska, Ford Airport in Michigan, Rickenbacker International in Ohio and Boeing Field/King County International Airport in Seattle.

Other grants totaling $16.4 million were awarded to build and refurbish buildings that store and maintain snow removal equipment in Mammoth Yosemite Airport in California, Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport in Minnesota, Greenbrier Valley Airport in West Virginia and Bellingham International Airport in Washington state.

FedEx ranks No. 2 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in North America.

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