Airports rely on their emergency services – and the latest equipment – for a wide range of responses to accidents and crises, potential and real. We meet two of the suppliers of state-of-the-art aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF) apparatus, and a couple of the airports that use it
One of the biggest global providers of ARFF equipment is Oshkosh/Pierce Manufacturing. Pierce Manufacturing and Oshkosh Airport Products are both Oshkosh Corporation companies and form part of its Fire and Emergency Segment.
All of Pierce and Oshkosh Airport Products’ Fire and Emergency Segment vehicles are manufactured at Oshkosh Fire and Emergency facilities and, says Jack Bermingham, business unit director for Oshkosh Airport Products, “Our team benefits from many technologies, manufacturing techniques and procurement efficiencies that are shared amongst both brands, which ultimately allows us to provide better value to our customers.”
The Striker ARFF vehicle is the flagship product for Oshkosh Airport Products and is available in three main models – the Striker 4×4, 6×6, and 8×8. The models each have different firefighting agent capacities as the number of axles increases, and each also offers a range of capabilities.
Bermingham says: “Our airport customers worldwide face many challenges to achieve their mission of keeping the travelling public safe. The Striker ARFF vehicle has numerous options, configurations, engine selections, and safety features to help our customers achieve their mission while allowing airport operators and maintenance personnel to work efficiently.”
In addition to its Striker vehicle, Oshkosh Airport Products also offers another ARFF product, the ARV, which is built on a European commercial chassis. Its rapid intervention vehicle, called the Stinger, is built on a Ford F-550 chassis to meet the Class 2 ARFF vehicle requirements of the Federal Aviation Administration (each FAA class represents different firefighting agent capacities, of water, foam, dry chemical, etc).
Lastly, Oshkosh offers a Striker ARFF vehicle simulator that is built with genuine cabin parts and utilises simulated computer scenarios to provide realistic ARFF training. The simulator can cut down on precious frontline vehicle time and wear, while also allowing firefighters to conduct real-life ARFF scenario drills.
In 2019, Oshkosh saw its 5,000th ARFF vehicle go into operation, and that number has continued to climb. Many of these vehicles are still in service; others will have been retired to reserve units. Oshkosh’s parts and service departments still provide parts and technical assistance on vehicles that have been fielded for 30 to 40 years.
Rosenbauer’s big cat: the PANTHER
Leonding, Austria-headquartered Rosenbauer describes itself as the world’s largest firefighting technology provider. It offers vehicles, fire extinguishing systems, fire and safety equipment and digital solutions for fire services and prevention.
In its segment dedicated to airport applications, Rosenbauer offers the PANTHER 4×4, 6×6 and 8×8 ARFFs, the MT-Buffalo ARFF vehicle, its E8000 and E5000 rescue stairs and the Airwolf rapid intervention vehicle (RIV). Other Rosenbauer products (such as various digital solutions) are also used at airports to support their fire prevention and firefighting efforts.
More than 2,000 of Rosenbauer’s signature PANTHER ARFFs are to be found at nearly 100 airports around the world. In January 2020, the 2,000th PANTHER was delivered to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, Florida. According to Rosenbauer, the PANTHER is used in all types of airports worldwide. It complies with all relevant international standards and can therefore be used without restriction, the company notes.
Demand for Rosenbauer’s ARFF vehicles has slowed as a result of the Covid-related fall in air traffic and the deferral of planned infrastructure investment in many parts of the world, the company confirms. Under these circumstances, many airport operators are keeping their vehicles in operation for longer and are investing in service instead.
However, airports’ firefighting capability, including the ARFF vehicles on hand, must primarily be proportional to the size of aircraft passing through the gateway, rather than the number of flight movements at the airport. For those gateways handling a super jumbo, for example, an airport fire brigade/service must have the required quantities of extinguishing agent available for handling an A380 fire, regardless of whether 10 land each day or just one per week.
Thus, even during the pandemic, airports have had to maintain their firefighting capacity. And there were also countries in which procurement volumes rose, largely compensating for the general decline in demand, Rosenbauer observes. Markets in which there has been demand for its ARFF vehicles have included, for example, Japan and South Korea; the Spanish airport operator AENA has also placed a larger PANTHER order (to replace existing vehicles), as has Hong Kong International Airport (as new procurement to support operations on its third runway).
Furthermore, the investment backlog will certainly have to be caught up, as ARFFs are a requirement for maintaining flight operations, the company confirms. “The question will be how quickly the various markets can recover and start procurement programmes.
“We are taking a close look at technological and social change and the impact on fire departments and their organisation and technology. ARFF demand will also be affected by megatrends such as health, connectivity and neo-ecology,” a spokesperson says.
Like Rosenbauer, demand for Oshkosh’s products has been impacted by the pandemic. “The downturn in the aviation industry is undoubtedly real, and many airports worldwide have felt the impact as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Bermingham opines. However: “ARFF vehicles are an essential piece of equipment for airports worldwide and no matter the volume of aircraft movement, airports still need to ensure their ARFF fleets are maintained and that they stay up to date with their planned fleet replacements to maintain commercial service.”
Pointing out that airports worldwide have to meet a similar minimum level of requirements to ensure ARFF protection is standardised, he adds that Oshkosh has positioned sales and service employees around the globe, along with a trusted network of sales and service partners, “to ensure the highest level of support for our customers regardless of the size or location of their airport”.
Moreover: “At Oshkosh, we are confident the future of the aviation industry is bright. Aviation will recover and continue to be a growth market as the world continues to be more connected. ARFF will continue to be needed to ensure the protection of the traveling public, and airports will continue to grow as the gate for communities’ economic access and leisure travel.”
At Oshkosh Airport Products, its R&D team remains focused on “continuing to develop innovations, build relationships and maintain loyalty among our customer base by providing the most customised and highest quality ARFF vehicles”, Bermingham confirms.
In January this year, Oshkosh Airport Products introduced the next generation of its Striker ARFF vehicle. Newly optimised features include a focus on the modular cab designed with the firefighter in mind. “The ARFF fire response is fast paced and needs to occur in a timely manner. The new Striker cabin offers operators a new approach to ease of use while also increasing their visibility and available safety features,” Bermingham says.
As for the longer term, ARFF customers are always looking for additional capabilities to improve their firefighting efficiency, lower total cost of ownership and improve overall value to the airport, he considers. “Oshkosh is continuously looking at various industry megatrends and listening to the voices of our customer to ensure our innovations are preparing our customers for the future.”
The success of the PANTHER has driven Rosenbauer to deal with evolving customer needs, constantly improve the product and make new capabilities available, the company asserts. “This is an ongoing process that takes place as part of our product optimisation and improvement process.
“It must be our task to work together with our customers on solutions for the future. That is why we are also convinced that we will be able to offer the right solution for our customers in the future,” the spokesperson concludes.