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
AVIOGEI expands its offering
Aprilia, Italy-headquartered AVIOGEI supplies a wide range of GSE, including ambulifts and cargo loaders, as well as passenger stairs, lavatory and water service units, belt loaders and dollies. For airports and handlers looking after the needs of passengers with restricted mobility (PRM), the company offers its small PED ambulift (the PED has a maximum loading capacity of 300kg) and the much larger Thunderlift.
The Thunderlift was only launched as recently as 2015, most noticeably at the year’s inter airport exhibition in Munich, but since then its popularity has quickly grown. In fact, says Massimiliano Martone, international business development & marketing manager at AVIOGEI, the unit represents a huge success for its developer – AVIOGEI has sold more than Thunderlifts in the 18 months since its unveiling, he confirms, with more than 28 of them delivered to locations right across Europe.
The unit has been bought by airports and handlers in Italy (such as Rome, Naples, Bergamo, Verona, Genoa and Pisa), France (Paris), Belgium (Brussels), elsewhere in Europe (such as in Bucharest), in Africa and elsewhere, Martine reveals.
Thunderlift employs AVIOGEI’s patented Front Loading System (FLS) and its ramp lifts to as much as 6m off the ground, making it suitable for serving almost all aircraft types (the exception being the upper deck of the A380). It can be driven and its lift operated by a single handler from the integrated driver’s cabin. The Thunderlift can take up to 12 passengers (and driver) in the cabin and up to four on its front platform.
AVIOGEI’s transporter and loader portfolio is also expanding. A new 15-tonne transporter, the TVP1500 is now being delivered to its first customer, while the first units of AVIOGEI’s new 7-tonne TVE7000 transporter/loader have also been delivered to its first operator.
Demand for higher capacity loaders is on the increase, Martone suggests, and interest has been shown by customers for loaders with a capacity as great as 40 tonnes – perhaps for the handling of specialised project cargo. It’s a matter for consideration, he confirms.
Possible other plans for the future include AVIOGEI looking at ways in which it can increase the performance and efficiency of its current portfolio of loaders, Martone observes, and the company is also considering designing an ambulift to straddle the divide between the small PED and the much larger Thunderlift. “We’ve had a lot of demand from smaller airports wanting affordable PRM equipment,” he notes. Such a vehicle might also revert to a diesel power plant, unlike the electrically driven PED.
As well as new equipment, new customers have been added over the past year or so. AVIOGEI has a growing presence in Africa (while always strong in the Maghreb region, the company is also now selling strongly further south into Central Africa), in Eastern Europe (such as in Romania, Montenegro and Serbia) and in France.
Beyond the realm of loaders and ambulifts, AVIOGEI also offers specialised equipment to the military market. As previously revealed in Airside International in 2015, it is, for example, meeting some of the specialised needs of its home nation’s Aeronautica Militare Italiana (AMI) and other air forces. Thus, in 2016, Aviogei delivered the first batch of 12 heavyweight cranes in support of the F35 Lightning II Strike Fighter programme; they will be used for installation and removal of the aircraft’s lift fan. Production of the second batch of cranes has just begun, to satisfy the LRIP10 contract of the programme.
DOLL looks to continuous improvement
“DOLL is continuously improving and optimising its product lines in close contact with its customers and in consideration of changing regulations,” confirms Brunhilde Rauscher-Doll, marketing director at Oppenau, Germany-headquartered GSE manufacturer DOLL. And, indeed: “In the last two years, a lot of the relevant regulations have changed,” she continues. “For example, DOLL vehicles are built according to the latest European Catering norm EN 123 12-2:2014.”
Rauscher-Doll continues: “The catering truck market is a positive one at the moment. In 2016, DOLL recorded an increase in turnover compared to the previous year and we anticipate further improvement in 2017. The growth rates are in particular the result of our (increased) sales activities in Europe and North America.”
DOLL established DOLL America Inc, based in the Philadelphia area, in April last year. There, DOLL manufactures catering trucks for the North American market by way of assembling DOLL kits on local chassis. “In this way DOLL wants to profit from the great potential of the American market and assure a better service and support to our clients,” she notes.
While customer requirements in relation to catering trucks can’t be said to be changing radically, there are trends that DOLL has identified. “One particular focus at DOLL is the safety of aircraft and operators,” Rauscher-Doll confirms, so DOLL is offering careful user guidance to prevent operating errors and has integrated in its different components what she describes as “highly sensitive sensors and indicators” designed to promote safer handling.
“Besides the requirement of the customers for having vehicles with the latest technology, customers’ requirements for reliable service, maintenance and support are obvious,” she continues. “The demand for full service (support) is increasing significantly, as well as the demand for rapid availability of trucks. As a consequence of this development, DOLL is offering stock vehicles for immediate procurement, as well as the option to rent vehicles.”
A recent development we have previously covered in Airside International is DOLL’s battery-powered ecat high-loader catering truck. “We are taking note of an increasing but not yet strong demand for ecat vehicles,” Rauscher-Doll reports. “The amount of investment required for an ecat with batteries as its power source is still very high compared with the investment required for a vehicle with a diesel engine. The low price for diesel in the past months enhances this problem.”
Innovative Equipment brings in the new
Some new lifts were on display at the International Airport Ground Support Expo held in Las Vegas in October last year. One such is offered by Wisconsin, US-based Innovative Equipment, which had two examples of its UTX scissor lift on display.
The UTX fits onto a utility task vehicle (UTV) or similar chassis that was only released by the company onto the market recently. It can be levelled on uneven ground with a slope of up to 12 degrees and is said to be ideal for applications such as in-hangar maintenance and repair and de-icing.
The UTX fits onto any UTV that has a box capacity of 1,000lbs or more, with the UTX30 model suited to UTVs with a cargo box capacity of between 1,000 and 1,500lbs, and the UTX44 suited to UTVs with a box capacity of over 1,500lbs. It has a maximum working height of 19ft and can lift up to 500lbs. Explains Innovative Equipment’s general manager Marc Dack: “The beauty of this machine is that it can be relocated very quickly.
“Primarily, we are utilising a high-speed vehicle that the customer can use for multiple tasks and adding a new dimension to it, thus giving them a machine that will serve many purposes. One question we had from a major airline representative was “Can it lift 250lbs of drinks to the passenger door of a 737?” The answer is ‘yes’.”
Dack continues: “At the moment we are looking to establish the product in North America, before expanding to overseas markets,” possibly in the second or third quarter of this year
“The GSE show in Las Vegas generated a great deal of interest and we are already talking with several large airlines,” Dack adds. “We have had responses from major international airlines, small domestic airlines and GSE companies. The response has been very encouraging, given that we have only just released the product to the GSE industry.”
Looking at the market for these sorts of lifts, he opines: “The scissor lift market is fairly strong. However it is very competitive. But there is nothing in the market that provides the speed and ability to level on rough terrain like the UTX. Especially at the price on offer.”
Istanbul-based Denge Airport Equipment offers a range of ambulifts designed for catering to the special needs of PRM. Managing director Murat Denge explains: “After launching our SD-5804 self-propelled ambulift, an award-winning product at inter airport, we have had a significant increase in demand for this model.
“Although, due to its very nature, we have not added any new models to the range, we have made a lot of improvements to the unit,” he notes. “As a result of customer feedback, we have made improvements in the driving chassis and eliminated all operator misuse options, by adding a number of safety features.
“Moreover, even though the system has safety docking applications, our R&D department is currently in the final phase of developing a more efficient safety docking system for all of our GSE. Hopefully, we will have this ready in the third quarter of this year.
“The PRM market is a special sub-market with its own characteristics, and – since all of us are getting older, and disabled people are more mobile than in times past – the PRM market will continue to be buoyant,” Denge predicts.
“As ever, customers are demanding more and more,” he continues. “However, we have realised that VIP ambulift requirements featuring an aesthetically decorated interior have also become a source of interest of late. Therefore, we have made a third design for an interior cabin, although it is not yet in production. All other requirements outlined by customers are either already or being adopted in the current model.”
And what of the future? “I believe, in the short run, due to changes in aircraft production material, ‘no-dock’ policies will come to be used by all airlines, while safety features will become a must-have,” Denge expects. “I also assume that, in the near future, we might be seeing more aesthetically pleasing lifts start to be preferred, rather than an ‘industrial lift’ look to GSE. Also, better cabins for GSE, more comfortable seats for operators and such like will grow in popularity, since operationally speaking almost all the units in the marketplace are able to effectively fulfil their intended functions of simply lifting up and bringing down.”
Moreover, Denge continues: “In the long run, automated GSE units that are integrated with all other external factors might be used on aprons – we might see smart GSE on the ramps. Denge has a long-run project concerning this.”
Denge Airport Equipment also manufactures a maintenance lift called the MP-2000. Demand for this sort of equipment tends to be fairly volatile, Denge reports. The large amount of competition in this market, plus the variety of different models available, lets customers choose exactly the right product for their specific purpose, he says.
Baumann secures patent for next-gen PaxLift
At the end of last year, another Italian ambulift manufacturer, Verona-based Baumann, confirmed that it had received a European patent for its all-new PaxLift. The PaxLift has been seen both in Las Vegas at the GSE Expo there and at the Airport Show in Dubai, but its official launch is expected to take place early this year.
The PaxLift reaches to a height of 8m and has a capacity of up to 2 tonnes. It has four steering wheels for maximum manoeuvrability, features integrated suspension, is diesel-powered and can reach a speed of 30km/h. It has space for up to six wheelchair passengers plus helpers and is operated by a single driver.
“We saw a need for a high quality passenger cabin with lifting capacity from ground level up to 8,000mm, something which does not require steps nor an additional lifting platform, offers easy access and great manoeuvrability to reach the airplane door, and is in keeping with the Baumann ethos of quality and reliability,” says Klaus Pirpamer, Baumann’s managing director.
“Our starting point for the PaxLift was comfort, convenience and reliability,” he continues. Having exhibited at ground support equipment and airport passenger transport events on both sides of the Atlantic, the dedicated design and high lifting capacities have created surprisingly high interest.
“With a tight turning circle, clearer view and smaller footprint, we believe we have the safest option available,” Pirpamer concludes.
Lift-A-Loft Corporation raises the bar
Muncie, Indiana-headquartered Lift-A-Loft Corporation offers a range of maintenance and service lifts to the aviation industry. Last year, recalls special accounts manager Christopher Barefoot, it had what was surely its best year since the turn of the century. Demand for its maintenance lifts has been really high, he explains, attributing that spike in the main to US carriers having over the last few years consolidated, got their finances in order and as such been able to invest in GSE such as maintenance lifts that during the previous decade of relatively hard times they had not viewed as a priority.
Demand for its revamped APX20 maintenance lift has been particularly healthy, Barefoot says. Lift-A-Loft previously offered APX16 and APX20 maintenance lift models (the number referring to the maximum operating height of the lifts), but in 2014 it consolidated the APX range into a new APX20LP that can be lowered to just 39 inches off the ground (the platform floor minimum height) and that has a greater platform area.
Other improvements to the portfolio have included the addition of a system that can be applied to the company’s TMX truck-mounted maintenance lifts that allows engineers to leave the platform safely and work atop the fuselage of an aircraft. Designed specifically for a company that required such a system, the system was brought to market in 2013 and has since proved very popular, says Barefoot.The TMX26-15 is effective up to a working height of 26 feet, and it can be used for those working on aircraft right up to B777 size, while a TMX32-15 is also available.
Lift-A-Lift also now offers the TMX36 truck-mounted maintenance lift that operates to a working height of 36 feet, and is ideal for those working on an A380. It can be supplied with an overhead crane unit on the platform that allows the engineer to install or otherwise work on an A380’s emergency slides.
Barefoot points to a particular trend in market demand as relating to maintenance lifts – a move towards gasoline-powered, rather than diesel-powered, units. The exception in the US, at least with regard to Lift-A-Loft customers, has been in California, where options such as the electric-powered APX unit offered by Lift-A-Loft have proved popular. n