Airside International takes a look back at the International Airport GSE Expo, which took place at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas between 18th and 20th October.
This year’s exhibition integrated what had until then been two separate events – the GSE Expo Worldwide and the International Airport Equipment Manufacturers’ Association’s (IAEMA) Airport Expo, and represented the year’s only exhibition dedicated to GSE to be held in North America.
It was a big success: the busy exhibition hall was thronged with visitors, while the lovely Nevada weather ensured that there were plenty of people wanting to look over the vehicle and equipment display in the space outside, or at the demonstrations that could also be witnessed in an adjacent area.
Airside International was at the show, and here is a taste of just some of the news from the event:
TRONAIR OUT IN FRONT
Tronair was amongst the many US GSE manufacturers exhibiting a range of equipment in the outdoor display area. One of the vehicles on display was its Jetporter JP125S electrically powered towbarless tug.
With a maximum full-load speed of 3mph (4.8kph) and a maximum aircraft weight pull capacity of 125,000lbs (56,699kg), it is deal for handling aircraft such as the BAe 146, Bombardier Challenger 605 and other business jets. The JP125S has dual independently excited motors, allowing the drive wheels to operate entirely independently and thereby offer much better traction in tough operating conditions – and weather north of the US Mason-Dixon Line can certainly become a challenge in winter.
The tug benefits from a very tight turning circle, explains Justin Akinleye, Tronair’s product development manager – Jetporter. “It can turn almost on a dime,” he points out, not only allowing it to work in cramped spaces but also meaning less movement for an aircraft that is attached during manoeuvring. The JP125S also offers regenerative braking, ensuring smooth deceleration for both tug and aircraft.
Tronair bought the JP125S model line about a decade ago, but it is continuing to add to its capability, Akinleye reports.
An even newer item within the Tronair product portfolio is its XM tractor range, designed specifically with the needs of the narrowbody B737 and A320 Family aircraft in mind. The XM-20 is the base model, its bigger brother incorporating an extra weight kit to provide it with greater drawbar pull.
The XM tug has been “kept simple”, Akinleye informs, avoiding any complexities in design that might prove liable to breakdown in operation. Such simple designs also keep maintenance requirements down. However, additional functionalities – all the ‘bells and whistles’ – can be provided if a customer so chooses by way of additional upgrade packages.
The XM series “came out strongly” as recently as January this year. ”The market has really been looking for this sort of thing,” Akinleye suggests.
It’s been all change of late. Golden Gate Capital, a San Francisco-headquartered private equity company, announced in September that it had acquired Tronair (see Airside Update in this issue of the magazine). Being under this financial giant’s wing, with all its on-tap resources, represents a big step forward, Akinleye considers, adding: “Golden Gate is looking to invest in our platforms, and it is looking for us to grow.”
That expansion will see development far beyond North America’s borders, he remarks, although the company will “take its time with the export market”, ensuring that risks are not taken.
As well as investment in product, it is also vital to invest in ancillary support provision, Akinleye notes, explaining that Tronair will continue to offer extensive after-sales service and spare parts stocking to ensure that it can react swiftly to meet the changing needs of its customers.
Offering a range of engine transmission shift inhibitors and interlocks, as well as speed limiters, SSC – Safety Systems & Controls – has been active in the GSE market for a couple of decades, and has been a regular feature at the IAEMA show over the years.
Its involvement in the airside world dates back to the mid-90s, when it was working with what was then Continental Airlines on a problem the carrier faced involving damage being suffered by many of its GSE vehicles. The damage was being caused by GSE operators not stopping the vehicle before shifting gear direct from drive to reverse, or vice versa, on a mechanical transmission. This was causing damage to the vehicles’ transmissions and driveline, and Continental was looking for a solution.
SSC developed a solution for the carrier, explains Houston-based company president Chris Webre, and has been supplying this product to GSE customers ever since. It has also worked on similar solutions for forklifts, and it was in this market that SSC began developing technologies adapted for electrical rather than mechanical transmissions. Nowadays, many types of forklift rely on electric drives, as do – increasingly – GSE product lines, and SSCs electric shift inhibition can be as valuable for GSE as it has been for materials handling equipment such as forklifts.
SSC also promoted its speed limiting technology at the recent exhibition. Given the ever-present danger of ‘ramp rash’, such an offering has become increasingly valued in the airside world, and SSC’s speed limiting can be activated either by means of proximity sensor or vehicle location or activated by certain operator actions – an operator’s decision to tilt raise a belt loader, for example, could trigger an automated command to limit the vehicle’s speed to 5mph or less.
“We are offering our expertise in speed inhibition for both mechanical linkage and electronic governor GSE,” Webre explains, “not just to current customers in the US but across the world.” Not that SSC doesn’t already have customers based outside North America – Europe’s TLD is one, for example – but it is outside the US that there is perhaps most potential for further growth in terms of its GSE sales. Webre is certainly keen to go beyond the 10,000 or so GSE units around the world that already employ SSC technology, he adds.
BEING SMART IN THE FIELD
SmartField, from MobileLogix, is a cloud-based, software-as-a-service platform that helps to make companies more efficient by optimising their use of scarce resources, explains Ron Babich, MobileLogix CEO. Software designed to improve performance in the field, it incorporates capabilities such as tracking, monitoring, GSE equipment and inventory management, and is intended to provide an end-to-end solution for field operations, sales and support.
MobileLogix is mainly concerned with ‘Mobile Workforce Management’, and its 15-year history lies primarily in industries such as oil and gas and other high-value capital businesses. But it has been in the airside space for about five years now, Babich recalls, adding: “We saw a big gap in this market to optimise the value of assets.” SmartField is now in use in 24 countries and services six languages. Customers include service providers and self-handling airlines.
As well as allowing the optimal deployment of labour on tasks, SmartField makes good use of modern vehicle telematics to allow customers to make best use of their vehicles and equipment, providing reports on each item’s location, service history and current operations.
Babich has big plans for SmartField’s further improvement. One ambition is to build voice technology into the system; another is to develop the system such that each piece of equipment is equipped with a single button that can be pressed to generate a status report on that unit, delivered in real time to the individual’s preferred device – be it mobile/cell phone, tablet, laptop or whatever. SmartField is also platform-neutral, being supported in Windows, Android and IOS operating systems.
Las Vegas represented the first time that Babich and his team have been at the show but interest was high, he reports, for the technology. It seems like there is a bright future for MobileLogix and SmartField.
PULLING THEIR WEIGHT
Eau Claire, Wisconsin-based GSE manufacturer NMC-Wollard was showing off its Model 100 tow tractor in the demonstration area of the exhibition. The M-100 is described as a rugged cargo tractor built for civilian ramp and military environments. It has a dual-wheel, spring-mounted drive axle, is power-steered and boasts GM automatic transmission. It has sold well over the years, confirms vice president Bruce Steingart, its many customers including a number of handlers as well as self-handling airline giants like Delta and American.
It is easy to maintain and offers a cost-effective alternative to the tugs that have been developed to be Tier 4 compliant.
It’s been a very busy last couple of years for FAST Global Solutions, the Minnesota-headquartered GSE manufacturer. Formed in 1979, it was best known up to last year as WASP Inc – but the process of rebranding the company became a necessity when WASP acquired FAST Manufacturing, a major manufacturer of agricultural sprayers and liquid fertilizer equipment, in May last year.
Why adopt the specific name FAST Global Solutions, a move initiated in September 2015? Well, explained owner, president and CEO Dane Anderson on the FAST stand in Las Vegas in October, the ‘Global’ refers to the firm’s worldwide scope of operations (the company sells equipment into 80 different countries around the world), while ‘Solutions’ refers to its customer-focused product designs supported by the firm’s 35 expert engineers on staff.
What hasn’t changed over the last couple of years is the fact that it remains the world’s biggest manufacturer of non-powered ground support equipment. Some of its bigger clients operate fleets of between 15,000 and 20,000 units of FAST/WASP equipment. Nor, says Anderson, has the desire and commitment to support its GSE customers through ‘thick and thin’ altered at all.
But the scale and nature of its operations have change since the FAST acquisition. The company began a process of major diversification with that merger that is continuing today. Its approximately 700 employees meet the needs of not only those in the agricultural business, but also the airline business and the integrators looking for new equipment of a careful design and high quality.
The company also required a change in branding to reflect that diversification. FAST Global Solutions has a new website, while its three-striped logo points to that three-stranded product offering achieved as a result of the diversification. Some of the company’s legacy equipment has retained the WASP brand, to avoid confusion and because that’s the way some customers seem to like it, but the rebranding process has made significant strides.
Further expansion is planned. FAST Global Solutions currently operates five different manufacturing sites across the US mid-West, but Anderson confirms that he is looking for further plant to support increased production runs. Acquiring a new facility also means that additional trained engineers can be brought on-board, by no means an unimportant consideration for a growing concern like FAST intent on delivering high-quality product.
Any new facility might conceivably be located outside North America. In particular, the low-cost labour available in Eastern Europe (though within the EU) is an attractive option, but there are also possibilities in Asia or elsewhere, Anderson notes. A move into a local presence in an important market would allow FAST to be that much closer to its customers there, as well as save on shipping costs and on time (perhaps as much as 35-40 shipping days in the case of Europe, for example).
Another option would be inorganic growth in the form of an acquisition of another GSE supplier. Again, this manufacturer might well be based beyond the USA’s borders, if the circumstances were right. And any deal would take the form more of a merger than an acquisition, Anderson insists. FAST Global Solutions is 100% employee-owned, and any GSE manufacturer brought within the FAST orbit would adopt the same model, he promises. “We do a little bit of manufacturing outsourcing, but we like to control most of our own manufacturing,” and that situation isn’t likely to change any time soon, he says.
Improvements are also being made at the FAST factories currently in operation. For example, new robotic technology is being introduced in order to increase product quality yet further. Perhaps such improvements might also help the further diversification of GSE product lines that Anderson would like to see. For example, FAST is looking at supplying more electrically powered GSE.
The goal is to grow the company, and the expansion of the aviation sector will support such growth, Anderson considers. In terms of its GSE business, FAST’s focus will remain on the world’s top 25 global carriers and the major ground handling companies as well as a fair few of the big regional players, but industry trends are also opening up a wealth of new possibilities. The e-commerce boom will certainly drive new demands for GSE, for example, while new multinational conglomerates such as Amazon and Alibaba are moving into the air freight express business too.
VESTERGAARD KEEPS BUSY
Denmark-based GSE manufacturer Vestergaard was prominent in the display area and made a number of announcements during the period of the show.
First, it confirmed that American Airlines had awarded it a new multi-station Vacuum Toilet Service (VTS) order. The US carrier has purchased 33 units for use at three additional stations: Philadelphia, Charlotte and Phoenix. The new deal follows the successful introduction of an initial 50 units into New York JFK, Dallas/Fort Worth, Chicago and Los Angeles airports for American. The VTS units will be supplied in both summer and winter use configurations.
Second, Vestergaard announced the introduction of its newest product, ZVTS, a summer series vacuum toilet service unit. The ZVTS offers the same features and benefits as the company’s standard VTS unit, but at an entry price point. Developed for warm weather operations, the unit is said by Vestergaard to be receiving “overwhelming acceptance in the Asian market and is gaining a keen interest for the Caribbean, Mexico, Hawaii, Central and South American markets”.
The unit offers the same quality and reliability as the VTS line, and the same unique continuous vacuum technology, without the added cost of winterisation protection and optional features.
Finally, Vestergaard confirmed that the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has approved the use of its in-truck manufacturing (ITM) of Type I de-icing fluid for operation with United Airlines at Chicago O’Hare Airport.
United partnered with Vestergaard at O’Hare to test the in-truck blending technology on two of the airline’s Elephant Beta de-icers during the winter seasons of 2014-15 and 2015-16. The FAA has now approved the ITM for operation for the 2016-17 winter season at the airport.
The Vestergaard ITM technology allows for the onboard manufacturing of Type I fluid. Using additive packs and propylene glycol to blend the Type I fluid directly on the truck instead of buying already mixed Type I fluid, airlines increase their flexibility in purchases. Such carriers would no longer depend on deliveries of Type I fluid from a limited number of suppliers that may be delayed due to weather and logistics during snow events, Vestergaard notes. All the chemicals required to mix the Type I fluid on the truck can be purchased in advance and kept on-site.
Mixing on the truck using individually stored components also prolongs the shelf life and reduces storage capacity requirements (as pre-mixed Type I fluid also contains water). Plus, the in-truck mixing system increases quality control as well as benefits the environment, there being a major reduction in the carbon dioxide emissions footprint, Vestergaard observes.