Particularly during winter months, de-icing and anti-icing equipment are vital to proper aircraft operation. However, temperatures at higher altitudes drop significantly regardless of the season, so there is reason to exercise caution year-round. The type of equipment used depends on the particular aircraft in question, but as a general rule, turbine aircraft are better prepared for icing conditions than jets. The presence of ice on the outside of an aircraft can pose a danger to the vehicle, as ice causes it to be prone to a loss of lift and stalls while moving at faster airspeeds. Anti-icing is preventative, keeping the ice from forming in the first place. De-icing equipment, on the other hand, removes ice that is already accumulated on the outside of the aircraft. The majority of piston aircraft feature one of these two systems, while turbine aircraft often feature anti-icing and de-icing equipment.
Oftentimes, piston aircraft do not possess anti-icing and de-icing capabilities, meaning they are not equipped to handle icing conditions in the sky. As these planes move through icy air conditions and clouds, even in above freezing conditions, protruding components like antennas and pitot tubes accumulate ice before parts on the body do. Piston aircraft are generally constructed with pitot heat on the pitot tube. This anti-ice system functions by using electricity to heat the pitot tube which keeps it from freezing and helps maintain the function of the operative airspeed indicator. Moreover, older models of piston aircraft like Cessna planes feature carburetor heat which serves as an anti-ice and de-ice system by mixing a fuel and air mixture in the cylinders. The carburetor can potentially form ice in cold air temperatures and uses heat to prevent that from occurring. If the carburetor were to ice over, the engine would be starved for fuel and ultimately fail.
Many other multi-engine, complex pistons feature additional anti-ice and de-icing equipment, like the Beechcraft Baron. This type of aircraft features de-icing boots on the leading edges of the wings and horizontal or vertical stabilizers. Boots work by expanding due to air pressure which breaks ice off of these leading edge surfaces. Another type of plane, the Beechcraft Duchess, is constructed with weeping wings, a de-icing system that sprays de-icing fluid on their wings to remove ice from those leading edges. Aircraft propellers also have leading edges which are prone to icing, so propeller boots are employed to heat those blades using electricity, causing the ice to break off.
Turbine aircraft often feature both de-icing and anti-icing systems in order to offer reliable transportation to passengers and cargo. In addition to pitot heat, turbine aircraft often have leading edge boots that use hot bleed air to melt ice from these leading edges. De-icing fluid is frequently sprayed on turbine aircraft prior to takeoff to remove any accumulated snow and ice, in addition to preventing ice accumulation in the air.
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