The recovery in the aviation market is evident in strong demand for GSE of many kinds, not least for lifts and loaders. Manufacturers are in positive mood…
“In terms of market demand for our Commander, Ranger and Falcon loaders, the past year has been positive for JBT AeroTech,” confirms Bobby Gray, engineering manager – cargo loaders at US-headquartered GSE manufacturer JBT.
“Despite the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, we have experienced a steady recovery in demand as our customers continue [their] strong rebound. Commercial aviation in particular has recovered to, or near, 2019 levels.
“While the global market may not have fully returned to pre-pandemic levels, we have seen a healthy increase led by surprising growth in North America.”
The improvements that JBT has made in its range of loaders will no doubt have helped stimulate demand for those products. Over recent years, Gray explains, JBT has “continuously worked to enhance and expand our loader portfolio.
“We have focused on incorporating customer feedback and leveraging advancements in technology to improve the range and sustainability of our equipment.
“This effort began,” he continues, “a few years ago with the introduction of the Ranger loader. Our customers expressed a need to provide cargo loader services over a broader area at the airport while still maintaining or improving aircraft turn times.
“From that input, we developed the Ranger loader. It has an improved suspension designed for longer hauls at higher speeds.
“Another more recent product release is our Falcon loader. Again, customers came to us indicating the use of containers for cargo in smaller/regional aircraft. They needed all the advantages of containerised cargo handling but for smaller aircraft. The AeroTech Falcon loader was the result.”
The industry’s focus on a greener future is also never far from Gray and his colleagues’ minds. “Sustainability and carbon neutrality are the stated objectives for many of our cargo, airport and commercial airline customers,” Gray reports.
“Working in partnership with our customers we have developed an ever broader range of fully electric cargo loaders – the Ranger, Commander 15i, Commander 30i and more.”
That process of ongoing improvement never stops. “We always look to further expand our electric loader and [other] options,” Gray declares. “We have also introduced the B80 Cargo Tractor for moving cargo trains about the tarmac. Plus, in the near future we will be introducing other innovations designed to help augment the electrification infrastructure projects ongoing with many of our customers.
“We recognise that it takes more than just electric vehicles to move an operation toward green practices. It takes a new infrastructure. AeroTech has new products and solutions that help our customers achieve their electrification goals. In this regard, key new products and options include our AmpCart, AmpTek and JetDock.”
AmpCart is a mobile power station for charging electric GSE, while AmpTek is JBT’s load-sharing technology that helps to minimise the cost of infrastructure development by intelligently sharing the electric power already routed to passenger boarding gates. AmpTek load shares gate power with electric GSE battery chargers.
JetDock is JBT’s automated bridge docking technology.
Products need to be improved as customer requirements change. At JBT: “Our customers’ needs are evolving and we are working to meet those changing requirements with cargo loaders that are faster and designed for longer movements about the apron, for more electric models, the introduction of a great, easy-riding cargo tractor and products to augment the transition to electric infrastructure.
“As sustainability becomes increasingly important to the industry, we anticipate a continued demand for electric GSE solutions and are prepared to solve infrastructure problems with AmpCart.”
For Gray, changing technology will play a significant role in shaping cargo loader design and use in coming years. “JBT AeroTech recognises the importance of staying at the forefront of technological advancements,” he stresses.
“We are actively involved in research and development efforts to leverage emerging technologies such as automation, hydrogen power and electrification. By integrating these technologies into our designs, we aim to optimise equipment performance, increase operational efficiency, and reduce environmental impact.
“Other AeroTech technologies are vitally important to helping our customers achieve efficient, safe and green operations. This includes things like our JBT University for training customer employees, our iOPS telematic fleet management capabilities, streamlined parts ordering systems, JetDock operator assist automated docking technologies, advanced aircraft protection devices (APD) available on our loaders and de-icers, and much more.”
AeroTech remains committed to innovation, customer success and leading the way in cargo loader solutions, Gray says. “With that, all of our loaders come equipped with iOPS telematics capability. Our focus on continuous improvement, advanced safety features, sustainability, and leveraging cutting-edge technology will ensure that we meet the evolving demands of the industry and maintain our position as a trusted solution provider of ground support equipment.”
Optimising equipment design
TLD, part of the Alvest Group and one of the biggest manufacturers of lifts and loaders designed for the aviation industry, is also seeing strong demand for its products in this market segment.
Its chief operating officers (COOs) – Vincent Deschaseaux, COO of TLD’s Sherbrooke factory in Quebec, Canada; François Chaignon, COO of TLD’s Saint-Lin factory in France; and Jeff Wu, COO of TLD’s Wuxi factory in China – collectively express the thought: “2022 was the year for business recovery, mostly supported by high demand in every market that has grown to reach past pre-pandemic levels. This strong recovery has kept on going in 2023.”
Based around the Alvest ambition to make airport operations on the ground (and GSE) ‘Leaner and Greener®’, the company has integrated TLD iBS (lithium batteries) and IPHS (its hybrid solution) technology into its 3.5-tonne, 7-tonne and 14-tonne loaders.
This forms part of a wider effort to “continuously optimise equipment design to best fit customers’ applications”, the TLD factory COOs confirm. Thus, TLD’s electric products are adapted to customers’ available charging infrastructure. Plus, its ASD+ aircraft safe docking system is now available, representing “the safest automatic way to dock a TLD loader to an aircraft’s open door, thereby removing the human risk factor”, they assert.
TLD’s hybrid (iPHS) technology is also available on some of its loaders. The firm has developed its 3.5-tonne transporter/loader in both electric and hybrid versions.
Deschaseaux, Chaignon and Wu are seeing ever-increasing customer demand for safety devices relating to a loader’s approach to an aircraft (such as can be found in TLD’s ASD technology), not least as the result of the introduction of mandatory requirements designed to prevent collisions with aircraft that are coming into force.
“Considering the tremendous costs and disruptions for airlines relating to such events, we strongly believe that the ASD+ ‘targetless’ is a game changer already available on the market,” they say. “TLD proposes a mature solution that comes to the market now after years of development and testing on real operations.”
They continue: “Improving technology is clearly making operations leaner and safer, with minimum need for human intervention. It helps as well in enabling greener ways of managing aircraft turnarounds.
“This is no science fiction, this is the reality at TLD and – with our customers – we prove our technological choices to be right.”
For Istanbul Turkey-based DENGE Airport Equipment, recent times have presented unique challenges as a result of the global pandemic, but it has seen a gradual recovery in market demand for its products. Indeed, as would be expected, “The resumption of air travel and the gradual recovery of the aviation industry have positively impacted our business,” informs sales director Gul Denge.
However, “While we have made progress towards pre-pandemic demand levels, it may take some more time for a complete recovery.”
For the manufacturer’s lift products: “Over the past year, we have focused on enhancing our lift portfolio – consisting mainly of ambulifts and maintenance platforms – to meet the evolving needs of the industry. We have introduced upgraded models with improved efficiency, advanced technology, and enhanced safety features.
“Our goal has been to offer a comprehensive range of GSE that provide reliable performance, improved ergonomics, and increased productivity.”
And for the future? “In the coming year, we plan to further expand and diversify our lift offerings,” Gul Denge promises. “We aim to introduce new models with advanced features, customisable options and increased automation capabilities.
“Additionally, we will continue to prioritise research and development to ensure our lifts meet the changing demands and technological advancements in the industry.”
Gul Denge believes that changing technology will have a significant impact on GSE lift design and utilisation in coming years. “We are actively involved in this process by closely monitoring technological advancements and collaborating with industry partners,” she says.
“By incorporating cutting-edge technologies, such as IoT [internet of things] integration, automation and advanced data analytics into our lift designs, we aim to improve efficiency, safety and operational performance for our customers.
“Additionally, we are continuously adapting our designs and manufacturing processes to accommodate evolving technological requirements and provide innovative solutions to the market.”