Changes are being made to the design and technology of loaders as market demands evolve. Perhaps most noticeable is the trend toward more environmentally friendly units
In November last year, it was confirmed that Dutch carrier KLM had decided to turn to TLD for the replacement of its lower deck cargo loader fleet. The airline saw TLD’s TXL-838-reGen loader as its preferred option, based in large part on its desire to move to a fully electric loader.
According to TLD, the decision followed almost a year of performance testing of the TXL-838-reGen alongside other loaders. A statement from the globally active GSE supplier and equipment support provider said that the reGen had “demonstrated its technical leadership”, and was the only loader to “perform systematically the full daily duty cycle with one battery charge”.
The TXL-838-reGen is a battery-powered self-propelled, dual-platform electric loader that can transfer containers and pallets weighing up to 7,600kg (7.6 tonnes, 16,700lbs). The loader is available in Standard, Wide, Universal and Superior variants, designed to meet different commercial aircraft requirement.
It features a patented TLD-designed system that optimises energy consumption and maximises battery life: a power management system that includes the regeneration into super-capacitors of the energy, usually lost, when the loader platform is lowered as well as a ‘direct drive’ driving system that avoids hydraulic circuit energy losses.
The unit’s 80 Volt electric power system is available off-the-shelf and commonly used on other GSE, easing the cost of maintenance.
Rémi Langlois, chief operating officer of TLD Canada, says that the partnership with KLM will represent a “good-size project” for the manufacturer, but what makes it such an important order for TLD is that it is the largest-ever for battery-powered 7-tonne loaders. “TLD is very proud to have been selected,” he says, confirming that “KLM performed side-by-side testing of multiple brands of loaders and TLD TXL-838-reGen clearly outperformed all existing brands.”
Langlois explains the growing emphasis being placed on electric loaders, and environmentally friendly equipment in general. “Green GSE products have been a strategic development sector for TLD for many years, and the TXL-838-reGen was developed as part of this strategy.
“Electric equipment is clearly the future for GSE. The TXL-838-reGen inherits from all the features of the TXL-838 in terms of operation, but includes a battery-powered hydraulic system, an electrical drive and a kinetic and potential energy recuperation system. The reGen components (motors, inverters and battery) are common to other electric GSE and industrial standard equipment.
“We already see some competitors moving toward electrical drive and energy recuperation systems but our many years of experience, starting with Air France and the TXL-737-E, provide us with a clear competitive and performance advantage,” he insists.
TLD offers a wide range of diesel-powered loaders in addition to its reGen product. “The TLD loader offering has evolved over decades to cover every customer need,” says Langlois. Today, the company’s loader product line ranges from a 3.5-tonne unit to a 36-tonne loader, with many variants and options to cover the different needs of a wide range of customers. Moreover: “We always try to look ahead for future needs and be ready for those,” Langlois adds. “This is how, back in 2008, TLD decided to design the first generation of TXL-838-reGen.”
Indeed, “Our units are constantly evolving, with new technologies and standards,” he continues. For example, “The development of composite aircraft has influenced a lot of our efforts toward docking safety, first with our Aircraft Safe Docking (ASD) system and now with our automatic steering control approaching the aircraft (ASD+).”
And looking further ahead: “We are looking at extending our electrical equipment offering with additional models of greater capacity, and also at providing more automation to remove the human factor involved in some operations and to provide an optimal return on investment of TLD loaders.”
TLD Canada is located in Sherbrooke, Quebec. It is TLD’s second-largest factory and produces loaders for all regions of the globe. Besides loaders, it also manufactures other serial products for the North and South American markets, such as baggage tractors, belt loaders, lavatory and water vehicles, and pushback tractors.
Across the Atlantic, a US-headquartered loader manufacturer has also had big news of late. Last year, JBT acquired AMSS, the Bridgend, Wales-based GSE supplier. AMSS, which employed 125 staff at its facility, had for many years supplied GSE – including loaders and cargo pallet transporters – to both the military and civilian markets. The move to snap up the smaller company has added further breadth to the JBT loader portfolio and customer base.
Observes Kevin Cecil, JBT’s engineering manager, loaders: “JBT has sold over 600 Halvorsen three-pallet loaders to militaries around the world, but the AMSS acquisition expands the breadth of our military loader product offering with the addition of [AMSS’s] four- and five-pallet Atlas loaders.
Speaking to Airside International in January this year, Cecil confirmed: “AMSS is currently being integrated into the JBT business processes. The AMSS product brands are being incorporated under the overall JBT brand.”
Of course, prior to the AMSS acquisition JBT had already offered the market a wide range of loaders, of many types and suitable for various functions and customers. “The current JBT Commander and Ranger product portfolio compromises a vast majority of loader applications,” Cecil observes.
Design and development: damage prevention
When it comes to keeping up with loader design requirements, the impact of changes in the GSE regulatory and advisory environment is important. For equipment manufactured after July 2018, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) is adding further requirements in its Airport Handling Manual (AHM) to help with ‘Aircraft Damage Prevention’. IATA AHM 910, 913 provides information that applies to most GSE that comes into contact with aircraft; additional details regarding specific equipment are covered in AHM 920 (passenger steps) and 931/932 (loaders), for example.
JBT’s Aircraft Proximity Detection (APD) system already has many of these items in place, with only a few new twists that it is also now making available, such as additional event recording. The manufacturer developed an option that required a supervisor to reset the unit with a key if contact was made with an aircraft. That option is still there, but JBT equipment will now also record this event in the software provided with the unit. “We are also asked to record any time the system automatically goes into a slower speed when the operator should have done this manually before the event took place,” Cecil confirms.
As to other trends affecting loader design, he continues: “One of the bigger items being worked on by JBT and many others GSE manufacturers in co-operation with SAE and airframe suppliers (such as Airbus and Boeing) is the move towards automated docking of GSE with the aircraft. This will be an additional step in the advancement of APD and prevention of damage to aircraft. In 2018, you will start to see this go from a concept to reality.”
SAE International, formerly the Society of Automotive Engineers, is a US-based professional association that develops standards for engineering professionals.
Across the world, increasingly stringent emissions regulations continue to push the envelope on available engine technologies, Cecil notes. “JBT has been updating our equipment with the latest EU and EPA [US Environmental Protection Agency] compliant engines, as well as having a wide variety of electric products that have been available for many years.
“Every few years as required, JBT has our equipment certified to meet CE regulations. In some cases you are allowed to self-certify and in others you are required to use a third-party approved certifier for CE compliance. In the last several years, the inclusion of ISO 13849 has been a more prominent part/focus of the inspections.”
From a performance and productivity perspective, JBT offers a high-speed option with its Ranger loaders. The Ranger can travel up to 15mph and cover long distances on airport grounds between gates/terminals, saving time between aircraft loading/offloading. But further development of the Ranger loader product is in the offing. For example, the Ranger main deck loader will be introduced this year.
Plus: “There will be selective product introductions in the future to address any product gaps that offer viable growth opportunity in the future,” Cecil informs. “Interest in electric GSE is growing, although it is geographically specific at this point. We are expanding our electric availability as global demand justifies it.”
Meeting rigorous standards
Another loader manufacturer that is also keeping up with the latest trends in environmentally friendly designs and safety-enhancing technology is Germany-based TREPEL Airport Equipment.
TREPEL, which has production facilities in Tauberbischofsheim and management and sales sites in Wiesbaden, is currently going through the certification process for an all-new 400V lithium battery-powered electric loader. The new unit is a variant on TREPEL’s CHAMP 70 7-ton cargo loader, which has previously been available with diesel engine or with an 80V, 625Ah lead acid battery pack.
The 400V lithium battery option – a version of the CHAMP 70Se – offers a number of advantages to the also environmentally friendly lead battery, explains TREPEL managing director Carsten Schimkat, not least in the additional work hours it offers between recharges. The battery is regenerated with each lowering of the main platform, helping power conservation and prolonging battery life between charges, and the unit has been very positively received in the market, such as at inter airport in Munich late last year where it was exhibited. Once the unit receives its certification, TREPEL expects to take up many potential customers’ requests for a demonstration of its capabilities.
The new unit is more expensive than the CHAMP 70 lead acid variant, so that latter model and its traditional diesel engine equivalent will remain available for more “cost-conscious” customers.
Increasingly stringent environmental standards, such as the EU requirements for Stage 5 engines in GSE (non-road diesel vehicles) coming into force from next year, certainly focus the mind of GSE manufacturers such as TREPEL, but it is very much also a case of what the market is now calling for. And not just in Western Europe and the US: many parts of Asia – Hong Kong for example – are also turning to ‘green’ equipment as quickly as they can, Schimkat observes.
Guidelines pertaining to safety are also becoming ever more challenging. As noted above, from the middle of this year IATA’s AHM will tighten up safety requirements for GSE types that can come into contact with aircraft, such as loaders. TREPEL’s Aircraft Collision Approach System (ACAS) already caters to those new requirements, Schimkat observes. This radar-based technology alerts the loader’s vehicle management when it nears an aircraft and automatically introduces speed limitation in two phases depending on the degree of proximity to the fuselage. The system also records any collisions, should they take place.
The system meets all the new AHM stipulations, Schimkat confirms, and is available on all loaders if and when requested by the customer.
TREPEL’s range of loaders is wide. It offers loaders from 3.5-ton (the CHAMP 35) right up to 35-ton (the CHAMP 350) capacity, plus transporters and loader-transporters. As well as these, it also supplies conventional aircraft tractors and towbarless tractors to the airport ground handling market.