The Green Revolution: how GSE electrification is changing the game at airports

It has been a long slow process, perhaps, but the march towards making GSE more environmentally friendly has nonetheless been ongoing – and inexorable.

Two and half decades ago, GSE powered by the diesel engine was the norm. That said, it didn’t prevent a tiny number of equipment manufacturers from beginning to peer into their crystal balls to try and anticipate market change. What they saw was a potential future airport scenario that would be free from noxious pollutants and quieter into the bargain. The conclusions that these manufacturers drew were those of alternative power sources, notably electric and hydrogen.

Towards a greener ramp

Identifying alternatives to diesel power was just the start, though. At that time, concerns over the environment in general, and the aviation sector in particular, were latent. True, there were rumblings about cleaning up the ramp operation but this was just one target amongst many, aims that included making the airport a safer place in which to work and one that was more efficient in operation. As the years rolled on, so interest in a greener aviation sector became front page news – and this provided the impetus for change.

Electric power at airports

Early developments with electric power admirably proved the validity of the concept; indeed, the technology was well understood in principle, having been harnessed some 140 years ago for vehicular use. Constructing GSE to run on battery power, coupled with an electric motor, was thus relatively straightforward – the difficulty lay, initially, in persuading the handler to adopt such cutting edge technology.

Whilst the advantages of electric power were plain to behold, this innovative technology came at a price – literally. The first iterations of electric-powered GSE, once commercially available, were more expensive than their diesel-powered counterparts. In a sector notorious for slim margins and labour problems, providers had a tough time propounding the advantages of electric power. Aside from cost were the questions of infrastructure (did the airport have provision for the requisite charging points? How long would it take to charge a vehicle?) and the need to address the mindset of the handler, one that was habitually used to diesel and worried about the chances of a battery running out of power in mid-operation.

But by now the writing was on the wall and the pressure on the sector to reduce its carbon footprint was growing steadily. By transitioning to electric equipment, airports were offered the chance to drastically reduce their carbon emissions, aligning with global sustainability goals and regulatory compliance. Government incentives and financial packages were offered in order to make the transition an attractive one to the end user; and education at ramp level has helped pave the way for the acceptance of electric GSE.

Electric GSE suppliers

For suppliers of this technology, such as AVIACO, the benefits have long been recognised. In an era where operational efficiency is all, and where any shortcoming on the ramp is simply unacceptable, the simplicity of the technology involved means that electric-powered GSE is infinitely more reliable and much easier to maintain than the traditional diesel or petrol engine equivalents. The development of fast charging facilities, of opportunistic charging and the growth of the charging infrastructure in general at the airport has meant that electric power is no longer a pipedream for the sector. Early adopters utilised lead-acid component batteries but in time, these were superseded by lithium-ion, which delivered an even better result.

Mentioned earlier was worker health, an area that has received little investigative research over the decades. The rare studies that have been made have shown that respiratory conditions, caused by NOx inhalation, are not uncommon. Electric power provides a cleaner, healthier workplace, which has the bonus of enhancing job satisfaction and contributing towards greater efficiency. Aside from this is the kudos of operating with a clean means of propulsion: embracing a green solution says much about a handler’s operation, as well as its brand.

Electric GSE success

Naturally, there have been success stories. Amsterdam has long been held up as a shining example of alternative power solutions where, aside from electric GSE, there has also been equipment pooling, for even greater efficiency. Added to this has been the adoption of solar panels on certain GSE: in short, the Dutch airport authority has set a benchmark for others to follow, ably proving the solution’s viability. 

Benefits of electric GSE

Electrification of GSE is more than simply a trend; it’s an essential component of the future sustainability of the airport industry. With benefits ranging from a reduction in the carbon footprint to improving operational efficiency and workplace health, its adoption is not only just good environmental practice, but also a smart business decision.

AVIACO is committed to innovation and sustainability, offering electric GSE solutions that not only meet the current expectations of the industry but actually help shape the future of airport operations. In short, AVIACO is leading the change towards a sustainable future.

Contact us to discover how we can assist you in your transition to a greener and more efficient operation.

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