Whether it might be to help those passengers who can’t negotiate steps and so require some assistance to board or leave aircraft, or for loading cargo, or for maintaining aircraft, handlers and other airline service providers have to work at height. We assess the latest developments in the GSE world of catering trucks, ambulifts, loaders and lifts
TLD stays cutting edge
TLD is active right around the globe, offering a wide range of GSE through a global sales and service network. Its products are in use at all of the major airports around the world, its portfolio covering aircraft tractors, air starters, ground power units and air-conditioning units, belt loaders, passenger steps, baggage tractors, transporters, lavatory and water service units, catering trucks, trailers and dollies, as well as maintenance platforms and cargo loaders.
On the loader side of its business, there are currently two main areas of development on which TLD is focusing its efforts, explains group CEO Antoine Maguin. The first concerns electrification of its loaders. Today’s technology allows loaders, especially the 3.5-tonne and 7.5-tonne ones, to operate for a sustained period of time such that their batteries now need to be recharged only overnight. “TLD is a pioneer in this field, with its reGen loader using (a) regenerative system to save energy and better manage battery capacity and life,” Maguin observes.
“On top of enabling a green and quiet environment, electric loaders are (also) now priced competitively with diesel loaders and they offer a significantly lower TCO (total cost of ownership), to the point that the difference in operational cost on a 10- to 15-year basis is equivalent to their acquisition price,” he continues. “We see most of (our) customers worldwide progressively switching to the reGen technology.”
Mark Garlasco, CEO of TLD USA, explains more about the benefits of TLD’s reGen technology, which is fitted to the manufacturer’s TXL-838 series of 7-tonne lead acid battery-powered loaders. ReGen offers a couple of very specific advantages over systems not employing the technology, he informs.
The first relates to the system’s ability to recycle some of the mechanical energy that would otherwise be lost when the loader platform is lowered; that recycled mechanical energy is captured in the reGen system’s super-capacitors and can then be used in the next lift.
Second, those same super-capacitors allow the reGen’s current management system to avoid drawing large spikes of current out of the loader’s batteries, a characteristic that is typical of all electric loaders but that has an adverse effect on battery performance: large current spikes not only lessen battery output but also create heat that stresses a battery and reduces its useful life before requiring replacement. This patented system is unique to TLD, Garlasco notes.
TLD’s reGen is now in its third-generation format, he confirms, the first iteration dating back nearly 10 years. The system was developed as a result of discussions with customers who were looking for a particularly high level of autonomy – high utilisation rates between periods of charge – and it is now in use on TXL-838 loaders right around the world, in both hot and cold environments. The pace of delivery is rising, in part because more and more airports around the world are putting in place the GSE battery-charging infrastructure required for such units.
The other big change in loader technology being supported by TLD development concerns safety systems for GSE working with the new composite fuselage aircraft (the B787 and A350) types, an issue that represents such a concern for the aviation industry today. “With 3D cameras, we are now controlling the approach and docking of loaders to aircraft,” Maguin says. New regulations are coming into force that require these systems on all GSE docking to aircraft fuselages, he points out, adding: “Many of our customers are now buying cargo loaders, but also belt loaders and stairs, equipped with our ASD (Aircraft Safe Docking) system.”
Garlasco, based in the US in TLD’s Windsor, Connecticut facility, describes ASD as an “elegant solution” to the danger of impact damage. The technology leaves the GSE operator in control, he says, but reinforces the controlled environment that is an everyday feature of modern airside aprons. Should the operator exceed the mandated speed on approach to an aircraft, or should he come too close to an aircraft, the ASD system will apply the vehicle’s brake. Plus, any operator who enters an apron area around an aircraft must switch the system on, an action that will be indicated by a beacon attached to the unit (thus making it obvious to all if the unit enters the area around an aircraft without its beacon flashing).
Finally, should an accident occur, the system will record relevant unit data pertaining to the time of the collision, and will also automatically freeze the unit in situ. The operator is not able to override this.
The industry is not yet quite ready to take the operator completely out of the loop, Garlasco opines. However, that day may be coming, he believes, and TLD is certainly looking at systems that would take full control as and when necessary.
TLD’s Sherbrooke, Canada facility takes the lead on manufacturing the company’s loaders. It is located close to the US border and has easy access to transportation routes and international airports. The factory has a long GSE manufacturing tradition, starting as Cochran Equipment in 1956, before becoming a Lantis facility and subsequently TLD.
TLD designs and assembles cargo loaders (of 7.5-tonne to 36-tonne capacity), baggage belt loaders and conventional tractors at Sherbrooke. TLD Sherbrooke is also where the company developed its PFA-50 air-transportable, self-propelled aircraft cargo loader for military application, and its DBL model, the largest aircraft loader in the world, designed to handle aircraft fuselage sections or entire wings.
JBT’s Ranger offers big benefits
Kevin Cecil, JBT’s Orlando, Florida-based loader engineering manager, explains that the biggest recent change in the JBT offering in this product space has been the development of the company’s all-new Ranger cargo loader, ideal for serving a wide range of passenger aircraft. Recalling a complex product development cycle, he observes: “A few years ago we saw that there was a big change taking place in the GSE market. Many of the big carriers were transitioning across to using third-party handlers, and there weren’t the loaders available in the market that they thought were ideal for their needs.”
In particular, these handlers (and some of JBT’s self-handling carrier customers) were looking for loaders that were fast across the ground, had high rates of up-time utilisation and could offer a rapid return on investment (RoI).
The JBT response was the Ranger loader, which offers all of these things, Cecil says – in particular, it offers fast drive speeds for those units serving stands far apart on bigger airports as well as excellent value for all its capability. The initial discussions with potential customers and amongst JBT in-house engineering and development teams having taken place, by 2015 JBT was heavily into engineering product planning. In October of that year, the GSE manufacturer was able to demonstrate a prototype of the loader which, says Cecil, received a good deal of positive feedback but which also elicited some recommendations for design changes that could then be incorporated into the Ranger’s development by JBT.
Another Ranger was on the stand at the International Airport Ground Support Expo in Las Vegas in October last year, with initial production of the model also launched during 2016 in Madrid. As well as in JBT’s manufacturing facility in the Spanish capital, the Ranger will also be manufactured in the company’s Orlando and Kunshan, China plants, thus speeding up both manufacturing runs and deliveries to end-customers wherever they may be (and, Cecil confirms, the Ranger is designed with the global market very much in mind).
The Ranger has not yet finished its evolution. Other variants will be developed and released on to the market in coming months and years. For example, JBT’s Aircraft Proximity Detection (APD) system will be fitted, while the development of a maindeck loader variant is now being wrapped up and is expected to be on sale later this year.
Sales have already been encouraging, Cecil confirms. And, of course, for those who don’t feel the Ranger is ideal for them they can always fall back on JBT’s longstanding Commander series of loaders – a range of units which takes in the C15i, C30i, C40i and C60i series of vehicles (also available for cargo handlers are JBT’s CLT-8 and CPT-7 loaders and transporters, CLT being Container Lifting Transporter and CPT being Container Pallet Transporter). Given that JBT and its former incarnations have sold perhaps 10,000 or so loaders since the company’s early days, and many of those units are still in use, clearly durability hasn’t been a big problem.
Some of these loaders, such as the Commanders, may well also benefit from the ‘trickle-down’ effect of what was learned during the Ranger’s development, Cecil believes. They will also come to benefit from other improvements being made across JBT’s GSE product lines. One of these is the company’s Intelligent Operations Performance System (iOPS), which offers Computerized Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS), tracking, monitoring and equipment data in one real-time technology package. iOPS will soon be rolled out on JBT’s Ranger loaders, before also being fitted to Commander loaders by about the middle of this year.
TREPEL keeps its focus
Carsten Schimkat has been at the helm of Germany-based GSE manufacturer TREPEL Airport Equipment for more than a year now but, explains sales manager Philippe de Soyres, as there had already been a transitioning period from previous chief Klaus Pfeiffer to Schimkat over the previous few years, there was no awkward hand-over period. “Our main focus is now on maintaining our market share in the loader business and increasing market share in the aircraft tractor business,” Schimkat confirms. “Furthermore we are planning to add more products to our portfolio in order to grow the company.”
There has also been an expansion of the TREPEL footprint at its site in Tauberbischofsheim. “We now have a new building dedicated to our customers and to inspecting and testing finished equipment. This new facility offers more space for manufacturing tasks in our factory, enabling us to simultaneously assemble more equipment,” de Soyres points out.
Meanwhile, TREPEL has developed a new ‘Aircraft Approach System’ for its loaders that meets International Air Transport Association (IATA) safety requirements. “The new IATA Airport Handling Manual (AHM) standard on safe aircraft approach that will come into force in 2018 is raising a lot of new requirements and questions from our customers,” he says. “New systems must adapt to a wide variety of environments and operational modes. They are not only a challenge for the manufacturers but they also force the ground handlers to question the way they operate.”
Otherwise, TREPEL has also made some smaller improvements to its loader portfolio as a result of feedback from customers, such as new handrails and new tyres for its Challenger 430 units.
“The demand for our loaders was very high in 2016 and so far we have not seen a decline in this demand; the market remains buoyant,” de Soyres reports, noting in particular that TREPEL’ selectric loaders are certainly attracting more attention, especially in the EU, where particularly strict regulations covering diesel engines are leading to more and more expensive diesel engines that are also more complex to maintain.
“The readiness of airports to provide the adequate infrastructure for (charging the batteries of) electric loaders remains pivotal” in this regard, he insists, but considers that the industry will continue to see rising demand for electric loaders due to the complexity and higher TCO of loaders with Stage 4 and Stage 5 engines.