Bangkok, Thailand-based Bliss-Fox Panus GSE is soon to hand over a new Fox 16E electric pushback tractor to Indian airport operator GMR, one step in GMR’s and the wider Indian aviation industry’s efforts to minimise its harmful diesel emissions on the apron. Meanwhile, Panus is also pushing ahead with an innovative offering: upgrading its new Fox range of diesel GSE to electric battery-powered form for customers
Delivery of the battery-powered Fox 16E is scheduled for late June, subject to the current global shipping constraints, and Panus intends to make the handover to GMR management a memorable event. The unit will be delivered to and operated in Hyderabad as a replacement for a Bliss-Fox F1-150 pushback that has been in continuous operational service since delivery in 2007.
Bliss-Fox Panus GSE managing director David Burgess and Simone Livraghi, Bliss-Fox Panus GSE’s senior sales and marketing manager, advise: “India has embarked on a big drive to go electric and we foresee the sale of our Fox 16E to GMR as the first of many in that market.”
They continue: “The sale of the Fox 16E to GMR is a breakthrough for both GMR and for Bliss-Fox Panus GSE – a first electrically powered pushback for GMR, reflecting its sustainability strategy to ‘go green’, as well as being the first sale of electric Bliss-Fox GSE to India.”
Only the best
Burgess and Livraghi note that the Fox 16E was developed using only the best components available today for electric vehicles. Thus, for example, it features a Danfoss electric motor, integrated Eton hydraulic system and Microvast lithium batteries, along with Dana transmission and axles. A composite cabin, standard across the Bliss-Fox pushback range, completes the innovative design.
The tractor can pushback and tow all narrowbody and regional aircraft types, as well as any lighter bodied aircraft in technical towing work.
The unit offers significant benefits in terms of through-life total cost of ownership (TCO). The cost of fuel for diesel equivalents is avoided (an especially valuable saving at the moment, given the fact that oil prices have risen so dramatically this year), while maintenance costs are also significantly lower and the unit also has fewer mechanical parts that can potentially fail, so the mean time between failure (MTBF) is significantly improved.
Additionally, Burgess emphasises: “Electrically powered GSE helps our customers to achieve their sustainability goals, and is of course very quiet and smooth to operate.”
Panus GSE has deployed an after-sales team into India in order to handle increasing demand and customer expectations in this market. Indeed, Burgess and Livraghi foresee significantly rising demand to go electric in India compared to other Asian countries, and GMR’s selection of an electric Fox 16E is illustrative of this gathering momentum, which Bliss-Fox Panus GSE is keen to support both in India and elsewhere.
Hence, the company offers customers the option for Panus GSE to convert any of its Fox diesel pushback models to an electric version. Burgess explains: ‘The upgradeable powerpack concept is centred around having a powerpack frame that simply drops into the hull of a chassis with either a diesel engine or electrical power source.
“After the powerpack is fitted, we then connect up the electrical, hydraulic and drive systems, quite similar to the system used for military tanks and armoured personnel carriers.”
For diesel-powered pushbacks, the major components fitted to the powerpack frame are the engine, transmission, hydraulic tank/system and ancillaries. Should a customer want to convert to electric, the powerpack is lifted out of the vehicle’s hull, the engine is removed and replaced by an electric motor and invertor, and the powerpack is then refitted.
There is of course also a requirement to upgrade the electrical system and carry out other integrations to complete the conversion, Burgess notes.
“The Bliss-Fox value proposition for this is that customers can buy a diesel-powered pushback today and consider a conversion to electric at a later date, when airport charging infrastructure catches up with ground handlers’ ‘go green’ strategies or when the diesel engine has reached the end its economic life.
“This capability is available on our entire diesel range of Fox pushback tractors: the 12-16 tonne Fox 16D, 24-28 tonne Fox 28D, 35-40 tonne Fox 40D and 45-50 tonne Fox 50D. It’s a concept that we incorporated into the design from the onset when we embarked upon designing our new pushback product range about three years ago,” Burgess informs.
The battery pack is lithium-ion. To enable longer operational cycles and increased towing capability, Bliss-Fox Panus GSE is using a more powerful battery pack in terms of kWh output than do many other manufacturers.
As alluded to above, these electric pushbacks require very little maintenance, with lithium-ion power packs requiring only yearly check-ups. Moreover, it is also possible to monitor the battery’s status and performance remotely if the customer requires.
“The future is very much about electrically powered GSE and airports are a great operating environment for this technology, which can help them meet their carbon emission goals,” Livraghi advises.
“We believe all GSE manufacturers will need to develop this technology, if they haven’t already done so. The biggest challenge today is to standardise electric powerpack technology, because countries are each taking different options and creating different regulations.”
Benefiting from the aviation industry’s recovery
The Indian market is not the only one where Panus GSE is seeing demand for its products. Indeed, it is expanding its rental fleet in Europe (and especially in the UK), while it delivered a 30-ton F1-300 pushback to Condor Technik in early spring to support the latter’s maintenance operations in Frankfurt, Germany.
Also of note, Panus is also currently supplying large quantities of GSE for the defence forces of various countries.
Looking ahead: “Many governments have now accepted that we need to live with Covid, manage it and get back to a degree of air travel normality,” Burgess opines. “Passenger volumes are increasing, Thailand being a good example, and analysis from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) is quite upbeat, so we are anticipating an increase in demand for new GSE.
“Our production methods are lean and agile, so we are able to react to changing customer demand. Whatever our customers need, we will deliver,” he concludes.