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November 25, 2019

Types Of Electric Airport Ground Support Equipment

By Justin Forbes

As the airline industry continues to try to reduce costs, more airport operations managers are examining the efficiency of their electric ground support equipment.

With nearly 16 million flights handled by the Federal Aviation Administration each year, it’s no surprise that more airlines are focusing on how to increase efficiency, avoid downtime and decrease the costs associated with ground support equipment. 

Electric GSE has revolutionized the way ground operations function by providing cleaner and more energy-efficient technology. Though lead-acid batteries once predominantly powered GSE, lithium-ion technology is gaining traction in the airline industry.

Below are some of the most popular types of electric ground support equipment found at airports throughout the United States, and some of the benefits of incorporating cleaner technology into your operations.


GSE Types


Electric GSE is available in several different types of airport equipment, including:


Pushback Tractors

Pushback tractors are very powerful pieces of equipment because they are used to push airplanes away from the gate when they are about to disembark. They sometimes are used for aircraft towing as well, such as to an airport hangar. There are various sizes of tugs, depending on the size of the airplane.


Types of Belt Loaders

Belt loaders feature conveyor belts that are used for loading and unloading baggage and other cargo that is not stowed in containers. Crews position the belt loader at the door of the aircraft’s baggage compartment when in operation. 


Container Loaders

Airport ground crew must load and unload cargo quickly and efficiently to keep on the same rigorous schedules airlines strive to keep. Crews use container loaders, which have a platform that raises and a platform that descends, to help them with this task. Wheels underneath the cargo then move the pallets in and out of the aircraft.


Luggage Tugs

Tugs are an essential component of ground support equipment. Crews use tugs to move any pieces of equipment that cannot move themselves. This includes passenger luggage carts.


Lavatory Trucks

These vehicles empty and refill lavatories that are located on aircraft. While in flight, waste is stored in tanks. In between flights, lavatory trucks remove the waste and refill the tanks with a liquid that is a combination of water and disinfectant. While some airports feature self-powered lavatory trucks, others only have carts that are pulled by tug.


Potable Water Trucks

A potable water truck provides an efficient way for crews to transport potable - or safe, drinkable - water to aircraft. After going through a filtration process, the water is stored on the vehicle, safe from the elements. The water truck features a pump that is used to move the water to the aircraft.


Baggage carts

Also known as dollies, baggage carts transport loose baggage, mail bags and cargo cartons between the aircraft and another location, such as the terminal or a sorting facility.


Why Use Electric GSE?


Integrating electric GSE into fleets makes sense for many airline companies, considering how this type of technology thrives in an airport environment. For example, electric GSE are especially efficient when it comes to:

  • Frequent starts and stops
  • More instances of idle time
  • Short required ranges

An additional benefit that electric GSE offers airport ground handling operators is the inching capability. This feature increases accuracy when crews move the tug into the luggage trailer hitch.

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, some auxiliary loads can be more efficiently met by electric power sources, rather than a diesel motor vehicle that is idling. This includes hydraulic lifts that can better access high airplanes.


Why Use Lithium-Ion Batteries?


Integrating lithium-ion batteries into an electric fleet has its own set of advantages as well for ground support equipment crews. 

The Flux LiFT GSE Pack, in particular, is capable of integrating with GSE such as baggage and cargo tractors. This allows crews to seamlessly transition GSE when switching to lithium-ion. 

Because lithium-ion batteries do not require a separate space for charging like lead-acid batteries do to address safety concerns, electric chargers can be positioned in several locations throughout an airport. This reduces ground support equipment traffic and travel that is non-productive and excessive.

Other benefits include:

  • Remarkably fast charging times. In fact, partial charges on an opportunity basis, such as those that occur during work or lunch breaks, are safer and can prolong the life of a lithium-ion battery. 
  • Energy efficiency thanks to their ability to sustain more power. Unlike lead-acid batteries that bleed energy and lose amps when charging, discharging and sitting idle, lithium-ion batteries maintain a constant voltage throughout the discharge cycle. This leads to as much as a 50% energy savings when compared to lead-acid batteries.
  • Environmentally friendly. GSE that still run on diesel and gasoline are some of the worst offenders for carbon emissions and pollutants. Lithium-ion technology, however, offers several environmentally-friendly benefits, including no toxic lead or acid spills, no noxious fumes when charging, zero carbon emissions, and no corrosion, sulfation or contamination.
      • Cold weather performance. Because most airports experience at least one cold season each year, lithium-ion batteries provide an added benefit in that they perform well in cold climates. All Flux Power GSE batteries also come with optional heaters that can be controlled by the battery management system, which maintains cell temperatures in their ideal range.
        • Cost savings. One of the most important benefits for incorporating lithium-ion batteries in airport operations is the cost savings they provide. Some of the savings you will see include:
          • Fewer batteries needed for multi-shift operations
          • High energy conversion efficiency
          • Up to 25% longer run times than lead-acid batteries
          • Charging in-house or where convenient, rather than a separate, additional location
          • No clean-up costs since acid spills, corrosion, sulfation and contamination do not occur
          • Capable of integrating with GSE equipment, so no need to purchase new equipment 

In the United States, you may also be pleased to know the Federal Aviation Administration frequently awards grants to install electric charging points at airports. This helps offset the costs associated with this infrastructure as well, sometimes as much as 50 percent. 


Bottom Line


As global air traffic continues to increase, more airports are turning toward using electric ground support equipment as a way to combat rising costs.

Some of the most common types of GSE are available using electric technology, including lithium-ion batteries. Revolutionizing the way ground operations function, this type of GSE provides cleaner and more energy-efficient technology … providing countless environmental benefits and cost-savings features.


Airport GSE Lithium-ion battery


Justin Forbes

Justin Forbes

Justin Forbes is the Director of Business Development at Flux Power. He graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering from UC San Diego, and earned his MBA from Duke University. He is responsible for developing marketing and customer acquisition initiatives, along with creating new business growth strategies to increase sales.