While the aviation industry has had a horrible couple of years and almost all those involved in it have had to make changes to their structure and operations, some things stay the same – and one of those is that, in harsh winter conditions, aircraft need to be de-iced if they are to operate safely. Manufacturers of aircraft de-icing rigs still, therefore, have a key role to play
Memphis, Tennessee-headquartered Ground Support Specialist (GSS) supplies aircraft de-icers as well as other GSE types such as wash carts and loaders, including both new and previously used equipment. Recently, it launched an entirely new model of de-icer: the GS2100 Wraptor.
While the unit was officially launched on the market in 2020, because of disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic it was not demonstrated until January this year. However, since then, reports Luke Brown, GSS’s director of sales, “Feedback and results have been absolutely tremendous.”
He continues: “We are incredibly pleased with the Wraptor. The revolutionary cab, which comes with heated windows and mirrors, lots of space to promote operator comfort, and a 360-degree view with an overhead window, is something that has caught the eye of many.”
The Wraptor adds to GSS’s previously available GS320, GS700 and GS1400 de-icer product lines. According to Brown: “At GSS, we truly believe in giving customers exactly what they need to fit their budget and operation.” By offering de-icers with working heights of between 11 and 45 feet and fluid capacities from 300 gallons to 2,000 gallons, it is able to provide a wide range of options to its customers.
“Now, with the introduction of the Wraptor, we can offer a high-quality unit for any operation at an affordable price,” Brown declares.
While so many GSE suppliers have had a very challenging 18 months and, says Brown, “Last year was a tough one for everyone for sure,” the potential pain of this one was eased by the precautions that GSS took last year. During 2020, rather than saying ‘woe is me’ and lamenting the situation, GSS readied itself for 2021, he informs.
In particular, the company ensured that it had rigs and spare parts ready to ship whenever they were required: “We have been able to capitalise by thinking ahead last year,” Brown comments. While many manufacturers face parts shortages, GSS stocked up last year in order to help better serve its customers this year. Delivery lead times have thus been minimised, representing a significant selling point, Brown believes.
As a result, indeed, “It’s been a great year thus far,” he says “one that has certainly surpassed our expectations coming out of a pandemic.” He notes one sale in particular that should come to public knowledge soon that “will grab people’s attention”.
Right now, the market for new de-icers is better than GSS expected, given the situation in which the aviation industry finds itself. And, with the introduction of the Wraptor, demand for GSS product seems to be higher than it typically is at this time of the year, Brown suggests.
When Airside last spoke to GSS (in the Autumn 2020 issue of the magazine), vice president Adam Houpt made reference to the fact that GSS actually started life in the mid-1990s as a refurbishment company, and that has continued to represent a significant element of its business up to the present day. Today, “It’s not a primary focus, but it is an important aspect of our business that we take great pride in,” Brown explains. “Refurbishments are something that GSS will continue to do, as it gives our customers even more options to fit their budget.”
Meanwhile, GSS continues to look at expanding its product range. There are several improvements to models on the horizon, Brown observes. “We will be adding to our wide range of options available by adding extended reach, proportional blending and ‘instant heat’.”
Extended reach will be achieved through longer booms, while proportional blending will be an automated process undertaken on the de-icing rig that will save time and increase efficiency in the de-icing process. Finally, while GSS rigs currently take perhaps 10 minutes to heat their fluid to the appropriate temperature, minimising such time would represent another benefit for customers.
In addition to those potential improvements, “We are also looking at sustainable options to begin introducing GSS electric de-icers,” Brown confirms. While there are certainly challenges to be overcome with such a development – including the fact that operators do not want to take de-icers out of service during busy times however briefly to charge their batteries, and that many rig operators are familiar with diesel rather than electric equipment – the project is certainly under discussion around GSS tables.
Reliability and low-cost performance
Also based in North America, Textron GSE offers two lines of de-icers – and both its Safeaero and Premier brands have earned their reputations for being durable, efficient and effective aircraft de-icers, observes Textron GSE vice president and general manager, Matt Chaffin.
Its Premier rigs are Textron GSE’s most affordable line of de-icers, but with a working height of up to 50ft they represent reliable performance and come equipped with Express Heat™ technology, delivering at-temperature fluid in less than 90 seconds.
Meanwhile, the Safeaero 220 is one of the industry’s most technologically advanced de-icers, Chaffin says. The Safeaero 220 was the first de-icer within the industry that can be driven and maneuvered, while also spraying, all from the vehicle’s cab by a single operator.
Finally, the Safeaero Typhoon is a standard, yet very capable, de-icer designed to provide a wide range of options to handle customer requirements at both small and large airports.
Together, they offer a wide range of different options for customers. And, says Chaffin, “Textron GSE constantly works collaboratively with its customers to ensure that new product development concentrates on the evolving needs of customer operations. This process ensures that the Textron GSE engineering team considers evolving industry needs when identifying or considering new technologies and performance features that exceed customer expectations.”
One such development is Textron GSE’s Intellimix™ technology: a spraying and blending system designed to minimise waste and energy usage while maximising productivity by circulating heat and fluid in such a way as to achieve optimal de-icing performance.
Keeping fluid at a precise temperature during the de-icing process, the system’s heat and mix at nozzle system reduces operational costs and bolsters eco-friendly practices by eliminating the need to flush the system during operation, conserving water and reducing exposure to de-icing fluids.
Intellimix™ technology is seen as an ideal complement for the Safeaero 220, “offering customers an effective solution to support their sustainability objectives”, Chaffin suggests.
Plus, in 2020, Textron GSE launched Guardian Technology, which eliminates operator error during a rig’s start-up and shutdown processes, thereby improving productivity, performance and reducing the risk of unnecessary down time.
Guardian Technology resets switches when the de-icer loses power, avoiding costly damage to motors and burners. The system is standard on all the company’s new Premier de-icers and is also available as an after-market solution that can be retrofitted to existing Premier de-icers.
Textron GSE’s forward thinking does not stop at product designs, Chaffin informs. The company’s emphasis on customer service, including after-sales support, has always been a high priority, he says, noting that the business recently released two new tools to further improve customer experience:
In November 2020, the Textron GSE online customer portal was launched to allow customers to submit orders and warranty claims and access product manuals
In March this year, Textron GSE launched a new parts and accessories catalog, giving customers access to images and highlighting where each part is used across products
While demand for its various de-icing rigs is not yet back to pre-pandemic levels, business is recovering faster than expected, Chaffin advises. Moreover: “The market outlook for the upcoming de-icing season is positive for both our Safeaero and Premier de-icing brands. Our sales organisation is experiencing high demand for quotes and orders, and we are positioned well to meet that demand.”
Customers are making do
Across the Atlantic, Roskilde, Denmark-headquartered GSE supplier Vestergaard – long a leading supplier of aircraft de-icing rigs, as well as aircraft washing units and toilet and water servicing units – has also had to struggle against the aviation industry’s collapse. According to Lars Barsøe, the company’s vice president sales and marketing, the past year has been a tough one for Vestergaard as a lot of customers chose to postpone purchasing decisions when air traffic significantly slowed last year.
“Customers made do with what they already had in terms of equipment,” he reports. Some equipment that was due to be retired has been kept in service a little longer. “Nevertheless, we have managed to attract some new customers for our sustainable solutions, as well as make the first sale of a series of our new electric de-icers in the North American market.”
Moreover, as markets begin to open up again there have been movements in the airport market – new handling agreements, new players, new routes – all of which are sparking new buying cycles. “We do see the market picking up now, and we expect that a lot of the projects [that had been postponed] will reappear. The big question is how fast that will happen.
“We do not see the coming year as a boom year, but rather a slow return to former business levels,” Barsøe adds.
As alluded to above, Vestergaard has identified a growing desire for sustainable, electric solutions as operations through airports begin to recover. Furthermore, Barsøe suggests, over the decades the world has got used to “blue skies”, or positive thinking, he believes, not least in aviation, and there is high demand for solutions that can keep it this way going forward as the aviation business picks up again. These trends can be seen across the globe, but in North America, China and Europe in particular, he says.
Also giving cause for positivity, the air cargo and express/courier markets have been very strong throughout the pandemic, and Barsøe is expecting to see a further uptick in business at hubs for express service providers especially as e-commerce continues to grow in popularity in the future.
Meanwhile, Vestergaard equipment is always undergoing improvements and changes, Barsøe confirms, adding that his company’s focus is very much on electrification and automation. “We have set ambitious goals to be zero-incident and zero-CO2 by 2030, so that is driving our development.”