David Burgess of aviation services firm Swissport spoke at GSE & RAMP-OPS AFRICA 2019 about the ‘Ramp of the Future’ concept and the possibilities it provides in the ground handling industry.
The ramp of the future initiative, launched by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), aims to modernise ground operation processes, with staff training, technology and airport infrastructure key focuses of the project.
“When you look at front of house, where we have online check-in, self bag drop, e-gates…there is a huge investment at some of these new airports,” said Burgess.
“But actually, there is very little investment back of house, on the ramp. So we still have to rely on a large amount of labour, which is the biggest cost to the business in most airports, representing 55-75 per cent of revenue.”
“I think change might be coming on the ramp…during my presentation I will show some products which I think will highlight where GSE innovation and technology might take the ramp of the future.”
Burgess highlighted fuel strategies as “the basics of the change that is coming”, noting that compliance with national and local fuel legislation varies widely across countries and regions.
“For example, California have very stringent emission laws and protocols. So we use LPG [Liquid Petroleum Gas], we use electric, we use very little diesel, if any, and we use the very latest engine technology.”
This focus on newer engines is part of the ‘E-GSE’ or electrically-powered GSE drive, according to Burgess, who said Swissport had made a big move towards that in the last 3 years.
“But also, let’s move to the Lithium powered GSE…it’s got a higher start-up cost, but focusing on the total cost of ownership, Lithium powered offers lots of benefits…the long operational cycle, for example,” he said.
It is also important to be alert to future developments, such as “biofuels, hydrogen and hydrogen single cell,” said Burgess. “We [Swissport] are talking to one manufacturer about hydrogen fuel and we will be part of a consortium which is looking at biofuels in Africa.”
“If the airports can supply the charging infrastructure, let’s go for E-GSE,” he concluded, noting that Swissport had moved from 10.5 percent of electrical GSE three years ago, to 18.75 percent today.
Moving on from fuel, Burgess said the next innovation in the ramp of the future would be aircraft avoidance technology, or aircraft proximity detection systems.
Introducing a video demonstrating one such ASD [aircraft safe docking] system developed by ground support company TLD, he said: “We [Swissport] think it is the technology of the future and we now have about 160 assets with this technology fitted. This helps avoid aircraft damages, so I think it is dear to all of our hearts.”
The ASD is designed to slow down at varying proximities to the aircraft and is fitted with several backup settings, the last being a complete shutdown if the equipment does touch the aircraft.
Another innovation Burgess covered was remote control equipment, giving the Mototok pushback as one example.
“The so what from this is: at the moment we have the operator there using the joystick, like a video game. But actually, we can control drones from another country, so in the future could we control pushback from an OCC [Operations Control Centre]? Potentially.”
Other innovations Burgess mentioned included autonomous vehicles, autonomous passenger stairs, remote hydrant fuelling and water supply, and independent baggage travel.
He summed up by saying the ramp of the future could mean: “more technology, more infrastructure and services, less equipment, less people, less movement and less likelihood of aircraft damage incidents, which cost millions and millions for GSPs and airlines to put right.”