Aircraft Ground Support Equipment and the Environment

US Airlines have signed an unprecedented agreement to purchase up to 1.5 million gallons per year of renewable synthetic diesel fuel for use in ground service equipment at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) beginning in late 2012. This is a sign of the times.

Over time, to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve local air quality through the use of greener fuels, is an ongoing commitment. The fuel will be produced primarily from urban wood green waste such as clippings. The fuel is expected to have a low carbon footprint and minimal particulate and other emissions while meeting fuel standards. Synthetic jet fuel was recently approved for commercial airline use.

GSE design

As the industry closes in on compliance deadlines for a variety of rules and regulations, how can we comply with rules while not impeding operational demands? Ground support equipment design will play a key role where new equipment is concerned.

However, the major contributors of emissions in GSE are older units and larger heavier equipment, such as pushback tractors, container loaders, ground power units gpus, air conditioners, cargo loading ramps, catering vehicles, etc. There have been examples of conversion of some of these types to electric. But also newer, cleaner burning gas and diesel engines could comply.

Conversion in the short-term puts a burden on the OEMs. There is not sufficient time. Electrification of ground support vehicles and equipment is part of a global effort toward cleaner airports. It is estimated that of the thousands of units currently in use in the United States, a mere 10% are electric; but the opportunities to go electric are everywhere. From tugs, tractors, baggage handlers, cargo loaders, belt-loaders, personnel carriers to mobile stairways, ground power units and free-standing generators, all ground support equipment and infrastructure will ultimately be involved in the changeover.

Electric GSE vehicles are 90% cleaner and 75% less expensive to operate.

The retrofitting option from diesel to electric means maintenance, repairs and equipment downtime are minimized, because electric motor technology is more efficient and produces less wear and tear. There is less heat and vibration generated and fewer moveable parts. Zero emissions creates measurable air quality improvements. There will be a set-up cost with power lines for charging stations, traffic routing to and from chargers, the removal of airport fuel tanks that have been superceded. Rapid-charge power stations need to be positioned so equipment operators can conveniently plug in whenever the vehicle is not in use.

The switchover to electric GSE is underway. Starting the switch to electric technology for GSE demonstrates an airport’s commitment to a cleaner environment. It’s good public relations and good business, too.

De Deicing/Anti-icing Equipment

Aircraft entering today’s fleets are 70% more fuel efficient than they were 40 years ago, and the industry also boasts much higher occupancy rates than other methods of transport, with figures in excess of 75% compared to 40-50% for trains and 30% for cars. Add to this the fact that over the last 40 years hydrocarbon emissions from aviation have been reduced by 90%, and also, 15% of aircraft and engine manufacturers’ turnover is devoted to research, and you could be forgiven for thinking we are making progress.

The European Union’s commitment to cutting its emissions by 8% from the 1990 levels by 2012 under the Kyoto protocol, will require that chemical deicing with glycols, for example, improve its green credentials.

In summary, there are plenty of opportunities for enterprise in the field of ground support equipment design.