Barcelona, Spain-based ADELTE is a leading supplier of passenger boarding bridges (PBBs) and is well ahead of the curve on the technological developments relating to this aspect of airside operations
At inter airport in October last year, ADELTE was keen to show off its relaunched Apronaut training simulator for PBB operators. It has continued to promote its benefits, and Patxi Artiz, business unit director airports for the company, explains some of the designs of the improved system.
Apronaut allows potential bridge drivers to be trained quickly and efficiently. Each trainee can undertake far more simulated dockings than they ever could with real aircraft on real stands, Artiz points out. Moreover, they can be trained as if docking any given type of aircraft on any type of stand: the system can simulate any specific stand at any airport, once the relevant data is fed into the software.
Apronaut collects all the data from each trainee’s performance, allowing the trainer to focus on where his or her trainees need to improve. That data can also be fed to the airport operator responsible for the particular PBB; through analysis of the various simulated docking procedures, it is possible to identify specific issues that need to be tackled, or potential improvements in docking procedures.
The simulator also allows qualification and certification of trainees against any parameters that the customer chooses, while the control panel (a key aspect of the relaunched Apronaut) can represent any boarding bridge – again – of the customer’s choosing.
Apronaut was first launched at inter airport Europe in 2011, and the relaunched system offers a significant capability upgrade. But it is far from all that ADELTE has been working on. Last year saw a number of major upgrades to the broader ADELTE PBB offering, Artiz explains.
The first of those upgrades is a capability called the Energy Recovery System (ERS). Whenever an electro-mechanical ADELTE PBB is moved downwards to its resting position, the ERS recovers some energy and sends it back into the electric grid, thereby offering efficiencies and savings.
The dead load of the PBB causes it to go down once the brakes are released, thereby generating energy on the elevation motors, and this energy is sent to the grid, Artiz explains.
Another improvement developed last year was a specific new ‘contactless’ capability. An ADELTE bridge can now automatically stop 5mm before it comes into contact with the fuselage of the aircraft it is serving: an entirely new technology for a PBB, Artiz suggests.
2019 also saw the initial introduction of ADELTE’s Remote Control Operating System (RCOS). This allows the PBB to be operated not on-site from the bridge but remotely, from an airport operations centre. This cuts down on manpower requirements. The system was, at the end of last year, being trialled in real conditions at an airport. If it proves a success there, it will be made available for use elsewhere.
But the improvements do not stop there. This year will see ADELTE introduce an automatic PBB levelling capability. As an aircraft rises or lowers when passengers disembark or embark, the PBB will be able to stay level with the plane automatically without having to deploy a levelling arm, and thereby avoid any need for contact with the fuselage.
Another new development this year will be hybrid autonomous driving capability. This will allow a PBB to dock using a pre-positioning system with the last 0.5m of the bridge’s journey being autonomously – and precisely – controlled. This will, in all likelihood, be a stage on the path to fully autonomous driving capability later on.
Then, further into the future, ADELTE expects to be able to deploy a fully contactless PBB that will nevertheless be able to keep the weather out using technology similar to that used with today’s hovercraft, Artiz says.
At present, once a bridge docking procedure is completed, the PBB is in contact with an aircraft fuselage by way of three different parts. “We are going to be launching our fully contactless solution in three stages [to address those three in-contact components],” says Ortiz.
First, the bumper. This is a rubber bumper that is currently located between the docking ramp of the PBB and the aircraft fuselage. With the first stage of the ADELTE contactless system, ADELTE will prevent the bumper from touching the aircraft fuselage.
Second, the auto-levelling arm. This is the device that makes the PBB go up or down according to the aircraft’s movement. With the new levelling capability, the second stage of the new contactless system, “We will be able to follow the aircraft movements without needing to be in contact with the aircraft.”
Finally, the canopy. This is the closure element between the PBB and the aircraft that prevents the elements from getting into the PBB. With the new canopy technology, “We will not allow water, snow and so on inside the PBB while also not touching the fuselage of the aircraft. To do that we are thinking of different solutions; one of them would be blowing pressured air (similar to the technology used by a hovercraft).”
From the maintenance perspective, ADELTE already offers built-in software that supplies comprehensive data regarding the status and engineering condition of all GSE used in handling operations during an aircraft turnaround process. The next stage will be to deploy an Internet of Things-based system that will communicate seamlessly with an Airport Collaborative Decision Making (ACDM) system, allowing airport operators to learn from the experience of the past as well as assess current operating conditions in order to optimise efficiency now and in the future.
The system will also alert airport operators of potential future problems, prompting remedial action, orders of appropriate spares, and so on.
Collaboration with airport authorities and aircraft manufacturers will be key to the successful development of these technologies and operating processes, Artiz concludes.