If an aircraft suffers a runway excursion the potential costs are huge, not only in terms of damage sustained but in the impact on operations at the airport (it could entail a runway closure, for example, or even the suspension of airport operations as a whole) and the knock-on effect on other operators at the gateway. Having equipment and expertise in place is vital if the impact of an aircraft becoming bogged in soft ground following an excursion, with perhaps consequential damage to landing gear, is to be minimised.
AMS Aircraft Recovery is a Farnborough, UK-based specialist in aircraft recovery equipment – it designs, develops, manufactures and distributes a comprehensive range of lifting and moving equipment to help with the process.
The business was established in 1988 as AMS Systems Engineering, becoming AMS Aircraft Recovery in 2014 upon a change in ownership. Then, in 2020, it was acquired by California-based Age Logistics, a family-run business that had worked in partnership with the founders of AMS since the early 1990s. Because AMS has the better-known brand, unusually parent company Age Logistics will in time rebrand to AMS Aircraft Recovery, rather than the other way around, reveals AMS sales director Paul Ryder.
The deal with Age Logistics has worked out very well for AMS, he says, not least because the former has an excellent relationship with the US Air Force (USAF), its primary customer, and a key market for AMS going forward.
AMS already sells to a wide range of customers, however, both civilian and military. In the civil sector, this includes a range of airlines and airport operators – just in the UK, for example, the company’s home market, its customers include airlines such as British Airways and airports such as Heathrow, Belfast, Birmingham and Bristol. But the latest customer to add to the global customer base is the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, Ryder informs.
Indeed, while its headquarters are in Farnborough, Hampshire and its manufacturing facility is located in Wiltshire, AMS sells right around the world through a network of distribution agents, he notes.
AMS’s product line includes lifting airbags, airbag inflation systems, fuselage lifting systems, turntables and transport systems. All the equipment has been designed to ensure aircraft can be recovered quickly and safely, satisfying Boeing and Airbus requirements as and where necessary.
With its range of airbag-based lifting equipment, de-bogging, towing and sledging equipment, tethering gear and transporters, AMS offers a comprehensive range of products that can recover damaged and stranded aircraft in all sorts of challenging positions and terrains, Ryder explains. It even offers temporary roadway that can be laid between a stricken aircraft that has suffered a runway or taxiway excursion to enable easier recovery to hard ground.
Yet the product portfolio is continuing to grow. For example, over the course of the past year AMS has developed a new Integrated Recovery System that has the capacity to both lift and transport an aircraft, a sort of hybrid of airbag-based capability, sledge and transporter, Ryder says.
Tentatively called the Fighter Jet Transporter when directed at the military market (and USAF is its first confirmed customer) and Integrated Recovery System when aimed at the civil sector, the equipment is currently being launched onto the market. While initially aimed at the fighter jet and business jet markets, there is scope to develop the system to handle commercial aircraft, Ryder confirms. It has a 15-tonne lifting capacity and so could, for example, be used to lift the nose of a typical narrowbodied aircraft. (It is the nosewheel that is usually the first to collapse under stress when an aircraft leaves a runway or taxiway for the soft ground around an airfield hardstanding.)
Another string to the AMS portfolio bow is the training that it offers at its school at Kemble in Gloucestershire. There, the company offers both first-up and refresher hands-on training to clients using aircraft such as B737 or A320 family models as required.
Plus, Ryder says, AMS has also been asked on occasion to actually help with an aircraft recovery. One such occasion – in 2014 – saw AMS staff take their equipment to help recover an ASL aircraft at the UK’s East Midlands Airport (EMA), for instance.
While business was quiet during the pandemic, when customers and potential customers simply did not have the budgets to invest in aircraft recovery equipment, demand is now picking up quickly, Ryder says. As passenger numbers near pre-pandemic levels, so potential customers are realising the need to “minimise their exposure to risk” associated with stricken aircraft, he points out.
RESQTEC offers integrated solutions
Another important player in the area of aircraft recovery is Netherlands-based RESQTEC. Formed on New Year’s Day 1972, it is “an innovative solution provider of rescue equipment”, says Dennis Beck, the company’s sales and marketing director.
An important point in its development took place in 2005, when – due to the perceived limitations of existing aircraft recovery lifting devices – the company was invited by the aviation sector to “create solutions for the aircraft recovery problems they faced”, Beck recalls.
“At the request of the aviation industry (including Airbus and Boeing as well as IATA’s Aircraft Recovery Task Force), RESQTEC developed a unique solution to lift and recover the new generation of aircraft that had larger, heavier and different wing designs (such as the Airbus A350 and Boeing B787).
“Our aircraft recovery story began then, and we now offer solutions to both civil and military customers,” he advises.
Since 2006, RESQTEC has been an active member of the IATA Aircraft Recovery Forum or Task Force and, in 2009, the company’s aircraft recovery experts played an active role in updating the International Civil Aviation Organization’s Airport Services Manual’s Part 5 ‘Removal of Disabled Aircraft’.
All RESQTEC’s aircraft recovery experts and training instructors have more than 10 years of experience in disabled aircraft recovery operations and are contributing members to the IATA Aircraft Recovery Task Force, Beck says.
While headquartered at Lisse, in the Netherlands, RESQTEC also has offices in the US, China and Malaysia.
RESQTEC offers a wide range of products to support aircraft recovery, including lifting and moving equipment, as well as ancillary equipment. Its product portfolio includes: its single column R2S and R2S MAXX systems (R2S is short for Rapid Recovery System, of which more below); Pneumatic Aircraft Lifting Bags; a Rapid Recovery Multi Sling Lifting Kit; a Rapid Recovery Tethering Kit; a Rapid Recovery Debogging Towing Kit; Aircraft Recovery Dollies; an Aircraft Recovery Trailer System; Q-Mat Temporary Road Panels; and Aircraft Recovery Cribbing Blocks.
As Beck explains, RESQTEC’s R2S system was developed to lift and recover the new generation of aircraft that are larger, heavier and have different wing designs. It was specifically designed to allow for controlled and continuous lifting in one go, over a changing angle, without affecting the stability of the aircraft and incurring secondary damage. The equipment works on every aircraft type, is quick and easy to use and is extremely durable, RESQTEC advises. This allows for a short set-up time and ensures the fast removal of disabled aircraft.
R2S single columns can lift up to 30 tons, while R2S MAXX has a maximum lifting capacity of 165 tons and combines jacks and pneumatic lifting equipment.
R2S offers a number of facilities that differentiate it from other aircraft recovery systems, Beck suggests. These include its lifting height capability, being the only such system that can lift up to 6m of height and thus handle A380 and other widebody aircraft. It can reach this height thanks to the high-pressure 10-bar lifting bags it uses and its flexible scissor-type framework, Beck explains. These features also mean that the system is very stable.
R2S’s jackpoint adapter enables various aircraft to be lifted at the strongest point of the airframe. Normally used for maintenance jacks, the jackpoint adapter can be used when the wing surface area of an aircraft has been damaged, at the point where the contact bag should be positioned.
R2S is one of the fastest systems of its kind available in the market, Beck continues. It reduces aircraft recovery operations to hours rather than days, thus meaning no long closure times of airport runways/taxiways or even entire gateways, due to its ease of use and ability to lift in a single shot.
Finally, it is capable of following the lateral displacement of the new modern wing design without the need for special jacks.
Thanks to these advantages, “R2S is definitely a unique tool for helping with aircraft recovery, as it can work with any aircraft in any situation, and it is time-efficient as it is the fastest lifting system in the world,” Beck says. “It definitely solved the lifting problem that the aircraft industry was facing.”
Like AMS, RESQTEC offers its customers training on all aspects of its equipment. Indeed, RESQTEC has an aircraft recovery training centre at Ostrava Airport in the Czech Republic.
“In co-operation with our partner, Ostrava Airport, we have created a realistic training environment with excellent facilities for training any disabled aircraft recovery scenario,” Beck informs. “Besides that, we also provide customised training at customers’ own locations.”
RESQTEC offers an Aircraft Recovery Diploma launched in May this year, which combines the RESQTEC Aircraft Recovery Management Course and the RESQTEC Aircraft Recovery Practical Course.
Its various aircraft recovery management courses include:
• Aircraft Recovery Practical Course
• Aircraft Recovery Practical Course – Advanced
• Aircraft Recovery Practical Course – Customised
• Aircraft Recovery Introduction Course
• Aircraft Recovery Theory
Customers who have taken one or more of these courses have included Estonia’s Tallinn Airport, Beijing’s Daxing Airport, Poland’s Krakow Airport, Etihad Airways, Southwest Airlines, Qatar Airways, FedEx, Mumbai Airport, and USAF and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) personnel.
Furthermore, RESQTEC’s team of aircraft recovery experts is always happy to help its customers and any other parties with support and advice in the case of an incident, Beck reveals. “Amongst many others, we have supported our customers following incidents in the Netherlands, Canada, Poland, Brazil and the US.”
Returning to normality
Like Ryder at AMS, Beck is now seeing a marked uptick in spending on aircraft recovery systems amongst potential customers. “The pandemic has influenced all sectors around the world, including the aviation industry,” he points out.
“While we saw investments in equipment and training being delayed, postponed or cancelled, we also saw that airlines and airports all of a sudden had time to look into long-term strategic projects, rather than just focus on daily operational issues.
“In addition, airlines and airports now fully realise the impact on their operation of a closed runway or airport.” This is perhaps in part because, despite the aviation industry’s slowdown, “No significant decline in the number of incidents with disabled aircraft was registered by RESQTEC in the years 2020 and 2021.”
Now, Beck goes on, “Following the pandemic, we see an increasing awareness [of the problems caused by stranded and disabled aircraft], with airports preparing for aircraft recovery operations as an important part of ensuring the continuity of their operation at all times.
“Thanks to that realisation, together with all the postponed investments of 2020 and 2021, we are now seeing a very strong increase of investment in RESQTEC aircraft recovery equipment and training in 2022 and for 2023.”
Supporting that increase in demand will be some “exciting product launches” that RESQTEC has planned for early 2023.
Goldhofer offers aircraft recovery assistance in ARTS form
Memmingen, Germany-headquartered Goldhofer is well known in the GSE business for its towbarless and conventional pushback tractors, but it also offers the industry dedicated Aircraft Recovery Transport Systems, or ARTS.
ARTS comes in the form of either single dollies that can be used in cases of minor damage to aircraft or combination systems that are used in instances of more significant damage having been sustained. ARTS-1 consists of three hydraulic platforms that are used singly or together depending on the requirements of the aircraft recovery. They are self-propelled, so can be used without the need for a towing vehicle.
ARTS-2 sees the dollies used in combination and requires a towing vehicle. Optional computer-controlled multi-way steering guarantees maximum manoeuvrability.
ARTS-3 is a turntable adaptable to various weight applications and is ideal for the recovery of aircraft with damaged landing gear. It can be used in combination with the ARTS-4 recovery dolly (for aircraft with damaged nose or main landing gear) or ARTS-6 recovery trailer (which can also be used to recover broken-down airport vehicles or GSE). Finally, ARTS-5 is a support platform for wing segments which features adjustable angles for the support of wings of various aircraft types.
The company has been building ARTS for more than 30 years. The first recovery systems were developed from the heavy-duty modules produced by Goldhofer’s transport division (which today manufactures trailers, semi-trailers and other equipment as well as heavy duty modules).
Over the years, recovery systems were also added to the portfolio designed for smaller aircraft, notes Axel Heitzer, sales and key account manager in Goldhofer’s Airport Technology division. “Today, we can offer transport solutions in the event of an aircraft recovery for payloads from 12 to 600 tons,” he informs. ARTS can thus handle aircraft of all sizes, right up to A380s.
Goldhofer says its ARTS systems offer “superior quality, efficiency and flexibility”; and they were “developed in close co-operation with our customers”, adds Heitzer.
Responsibility and preparation
In the event of a runway excursion and resultant bogging or damage to the aircraft, responsibility for the aircraft’s recovery lies in the first instance with the operating carrier. It is, after all, their aircraft (although, note, that they cannot recover the aeroplane until such time as the relevant regulatory/aviation safety body assesses the aircraft with a view to understanding the reason for the excursion).
Hence, many of the big legacy airlines have specialist teams that are ready to travel to a stricken aircraft to undertake the recovery process, and have the necessary equipment stored at key hubs to support that process. Some of them are members of the International Airlines Technical Pool (IATP), a convention of airlines made up of over 100 carriers that look to share resources and reduce costs while improving operating efficiency. Under its auspices, members share aircraft recovery kits, as well as aircraft parts and tooling, ground handling equipment and manpower/facilities.
Of course, the airport operator will no doubt help wherever it can, given that is in its interest to clear the airfield for a return to full operational intensity. The cost of an aircraft recovery can be large (as can repairing it and readying it for a return to airworthiness), but the cost of a stricken aircraft impeding airport operations at a busy gateway can potentially run into the millions of dollars on a virtually daily basis. So, airport authorities have good reason to keep airfield recovery equipment on site ready for any eventuality, just as do airlines.
Moreover, some governments are keen to ensure that the necessary equipment is in place to handle any aircraft recovery quickly and safely. The Indian Government, for example, is mandating that airports have such capability in place where feasible. “But this is a slow process,” AMS’s Ryder points out.