Modern GSE tracking and telematics technologies provide data on much more than just the real-time location of GSE equipment – they offer fleet managers, engineers and supervisors a view of the performance of their equipment and, by extension at least to some degree, of their operators. More and more ground handlers are introducing the technology, although it can take a while to perfect its application
Dubai-based dnata prides itself on its forward-looking philosophy and its willingness to introduce new, enabling technologies into its handling operations. Indeed, it already has tracking technology installed on no less than 1,384 GSE units at its base at Dubai International Airport (DXB), as well as on five units at the other big Dubai air gateway, Dubai World Central (DWC).
In fact, all its various GSE types (although not all individual units as yet) have now been equipped with tracking technology, confirms Peter Martin – vice president technical services at dnata Airport Operations – including pushback tractors, lower deck loaders, maindeck loaders, ground power units (GPUs), air-conditioning units (ACUs), air start units (ASUs), passenger steps, ambulifts, baggage tractors, water service units, toilet service units, mobile conveyor units and passenger buses.
Speaking to Airside recently, Martin observed: “We are currently running a POC [proof of concept] to evaluate new vendors and technology and our goal is to track all of our 3,500 motorised assets at DXB.
“We have an additional 561 GSE units at DXB and 161 GSE units at DWC on which the system will be implemented in due course.”
That system is ‘Quantum’, produced by Georgia, US-headquartered Quantum Aviation. Its software collects a wide range of telematics data, including engine hours, operating modes, operator ID, speed, peak period utilisation and fuel level, as well as offering fault warnings on certain asset types and a playback mode. The system also interfaces to the Maximo Maintenance Management System to provide detailed engine hour data, extremely helpful in terms of utilisation-based maintenance scheduling.
The system provides real-time monitoring of GSE on the airport map, while also displaying the status of that GSE. The web portal provides day of operations reports and historical reports on asset utilisation, useful and non-useful engine running, reports on operational status, operator performance and much more, Martin explains. The utilisation reports represent extremely helpful decision-making tools for resource planning, maintenance optimisation, proactive fuelling and accident/incident investigation, he notes. The system also has dashboards to track relevant performance indicators.
As well as equipping GSE with the system, dnata also plans to install telematics technology on its airport vehicles: cars, vans and pick-ups.
Plus, “We are looking at upgrading the hardware to state-of-the-art, including using IOT [Internet of Things technology] to provide enhanced monitoring and measurements,” Martin informs. “We are also considering implementing the system on non-powered assets, like dollies, towbars and so on.
“The software platform will be upgraded to ensure that we are able to leverage the available technology [of the future]. We are also considering extending the application to have the same on mobile devices.”
A process of improvement
There is no quick fix when it comes to the introduction of modern GSE tracking and telematics. Radu Gadea is procurement and technical manager at RAS Group. RAS is Romanian Airport Services, the Otopeni-headquartered handler that provides a wide range of ground, passenger, cargo and technical handling services across a large number of Romanian airports (Otopeni’s Henri Coanda International Airport serves the Romanian capital of Bucharest). He explains that the process of successfully implementing such technologies is very much a learning process.
“I introduced a tracking system on all our motorised GSE in 2017. We conducted a tender with local suppliers of fleet tracking and management systems, but also welcomed international specialised GSE fleet tracking and management solutions,” he recalls.
However, in regard to the international bids: “We did not find success, as the prices were quite high and our demands were not fully satisfied. Meanwhile, the logistics involved seemed too complicated, requiring a team to be sent to Romania to undertake the installations, then again for equipment servicing and other possible difficulties.”
On the other hand: “Local fleet management suppliers are not familiar with airport equipment. These suppliers are well used to monitoring large fleet of trucks around the world, and giving support to employers in order to locate the trucks and to estimate fuel consumption and daily driven distances. But, in our industry, all GSE are based on the airport tarmac all day long, going from one aircraft to another, so actually we are working with all units operating across just a very small area. In our case, the reporting system is the ‘complicated’ item, not the location tracking.”
Thus, for Gadea and RAS, the telematics rather than the tracking capabilities of the system – which was supplied following the tender by Romania’s Centrul de Soft (CDS) – were most important. Gadea highlights key capabilities:
1. The ability to merge fleet management technology (including a manufacturer’s maintenance schedule) with the GSE tracking capability. It is not as easy as it seems – Gadea points out that the maintenance schedule for all of RAS’s active GSE alone covers more than 10,000 lines of Excel spreadsheet;
2. The capability to restrict access to GSE to only the appropriate operators. All of RAS’s ramp handlers receive specialised training on each of the types of GSE used by the handler, Gadea notes, and only after passing the relevant tests are they allowed to operate the GSE. Each of the handler’s ramp staff now has a “nominal key” which enables them to start the GSE based on the said training and examinations;
3. The ability to identify GSE drivers/operators as required in a defined timeframe. This feature is very useful when identifying a problem associated with a piece of GSE; for instance, if a piece of GSE is damaged, it becomes very easy to pinpoint the last driver/operator of the unit;
4. The capability to monitor speed on the apron;
5. The ability to report all manner of performance, including:
a. The number of working hours/distance covered over any given reporting period;
b. Fuel consumption;
c. Allocated drivers’ reporting;
d. Ground power unit (GPU) usage intervals;
e. Engine operating hours in the parking position, and so on
As of now, RAS is monitoring all its motorised GSE by means of its CDS telematics technology. This takes in GPUs, belt loaders, high loaders, tractors, steps, buses, cars and vans.
Getting it right
The telematics system introduced by RAS has not proved ideal in every single way. For example, the system introduced onto the handler’s motorised GSE could not handle Point 1 above, but – says Gadea – “We are using our own centralised reporting system platform which was designed by us and is working perfectly, providing all necessary items in the scope of GSE’s maintenance: schedule, registration and reporting.”
He continues: “Points 2,3 and 4 are handled perfectly and it has indeed been a breakthrough. We have control over all drivers in respect to the GSE they are licensed to operate, and we have the ability to manage a wide range of data regarding active GSE.”
Furthermore: “Ramp personnel have been acting more responsibly with their GSE since the system was installed, and an operational improvement has been noticed.” And, “This year, we plan to develop the reporting aspect of this platform even further.”
Gadea concludes: “I strongly believe that GSE tracking and fleet management has huge development potential and in the future we will see lots of progress. I have always considered that GSE needs to be upgraded with dashboard technology and be able to supply much more data both for the driver/operator and also for the company’s monitoring and management system.
“It is high time that GSE become ‘smarter’. Such systems should be installed both in new GSE and also retrofitted in older ones.”