As well as the big GSE manufacturers that tend to dominate the market for airside equipment, we should not forget all the smaller suppliers who provide GSE to more remote regions. From its base in New Zealand, Flight GSE is one such company, which traditionally go under the radar but nevertheless as a whole represent a vital cog in the airside wheel. Flight GSE director Alan Peacock tells Airside International about the vital role his company plays
Flight GSE was established in 2009 when we first moved out to our purpose-built factory at Rolleston, near Christchurch. We also own a firm called Independent Signs, which has been operating since 1989, but having relocated from Christchurch Airport to Rolleston, found that we lost a lot of our customer base (not being ‘Johnny on the spot’).
With spare construction capacity and two staff with great skills in design and fabrication, it then became a matter of looking to leverage those skills to build other products to meet the needs of our remaining aviation customer base. The idea behind (Flight GSE’s parent company) Flight Equipment Group was that we should have an umbrella ‘brand’ to meet those needs.
The company remains small; however, that doesn’t stop us tackling some interesting work. Flight GSE has a clearly defined target market of smaller airlines, particularly those in the South Pacific. Export clients include Solomon Airlines, Air Vanuatu, Fiji Airways, Air Rarotonga, Air Kiribati and Air Terminal Services in Tonga. We have products in places as diverse as Perth in Australia, Tarawa in Kiribati and Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. Our products are used by both civil and military operators, and from light piston twins to business jets and mainstream airliners.
The Pacific Islands market was selected for a number of reasons – primarily because no one else seems to want to look after the smaller operators, quantities required aren’t taxing and with our design skills we are able to tailor-make equipment that actually meets the needs of these airlines, rather than offering a ‘one size fits all’ solution.
The products’ designs must be adapted to suit the environment. For instance, most fields are unsealed, originally crushed coral strips that date from the Second World War. Tugs are almost non-existent, meaning that it must be possible to hand-haul trolleys.
We market through personal contacts with the airline operators and the airports. This means that we value our membership of Aviation New Zealand, the Airports Association of New Zealand and the Association of South Pacific Airlines highly. This close association breeds an attitude of partnership with the airlines. This is epitomised by our support by way of donating LPV trolleys (LPV stands for low passenger volume) and other equipment for auction, with proceeds going to local charities. We recently donated an LPV trolley to the Rescue Helicopter Trust in Christchurch. Being able to have all of their mission-critical gear on a trolley that can be wheeled out to the helicopter for loading has shaved two minutes off their response time. That will directly translate into lives saved.
Key to our marketing is understanding what challenges the operators face. There is no better way to do this than to go out to the islands to physically see them for yourself. My travels in the industry have taken me to Australia, Papua New Guinea, Kiribati, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, Tonga, Rotuma, and Samoa. Products we have designed and have in operation include standard baggage trolleys (2.4m x 1.2m decks) in Tonga, Fiji and the Cook Islands, LPV baggage trolleys (150+ in service, including 58 domestically), passenger stairs, maintenance stands, potable water and lavatory carts, hangar furniture and hangar materials carts, and terminal services carts. We have also just delivered our first towable maindeck loader (which has a 4-tonne lift to a 3.7m height) and our first belt loader.
We also meld GSE manufacturing with signage. We have recently introduced a low-cost, rotationally moulded airfield marker, again with the South Pacific in mind. This is NZCAA Part 139-approved and will enable our Pacific Island airport clients to use a long-life, virtually maintenance-free product. Other items we have designed and built have included digitally printed advertising marquees and passenger baggage size check gauge signs. In terms of GSE, being able to use the services of our sign company allows full airline branding to be applied, so the end products look the part.
Clever design and the use of quality materials is a key selling point for us. It stems from the Kiwi ‘No. 8 wire’ attitude of being able to build and adapt things from available materials, and using clever thinking to give us a competitive edge. For example, many of the South Pacific Airlines might operate a single narrowbody jet (a B737 or A320, for example) on international services and turboprop or piston machines for domestic routes. Our LPV trolleys with their 1.6m x 0.8m deck were designed from the outset to fit through the cargo door of the B737 and A320 aircraft, meaning these airlines are able to uplift their GSE from New Zealand and take it home onboard their own aircraft to save freight costs.
We’re also using the same clever design process to design and build an integrated aircraft wheel handling system. To this end, we have wheel dollies built that service aircraft from the B737 right up to the widebody A330 for ground handling and warehousing of the main and nose wheels of these aircraft. We are also currently building our first ‘multi-lifter’ that will have wheel handling capabilities. The third item in that line will be a wheel dolly trailer to move the wheels from the distribution warehouse to the ramp. By opting to design cleverly we are able to keep our costs down and quality up.
We recognise that freight costs are a key factor in the purchase price of every item for an airline. This means, as a small company operating at the bottom of the world, that we will always be limited as to places where we can sell product. That said, we are looking to allow licence-building of some of the items we manufacture. Kiwis tend to be trusting and honest. As such, we believe that we can offer products to airlines under contract, so they can have the items built locally for their own domestic use (not for export). Such a philosophy means we could earn on an LPV trolley built in PNG for instance, while minimising freight costs to the client and helping create local jobs in their economy.
Perhaps that is naïve in our modern times, but I have found those in the airline industry to be amongst the most passionate and honest people I know. I believe the aviation industry breeds honest and fair operators, and as such allowing our products to be licence-built could be a key to assist our smaller airline clients to keep their costs in check.