In a deal that closed in August, Worldwide Flight Services has leased two buildings at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport — one dedicated solely to the rebuilding of the company’s GSE.
The new facilities total about 40,000 square feet and will be utilized to “zero time” units, a process of essentially shedding the vehicle of everything but its frame and replacing materials.
“The goal is to renew specific areas of our fleet while incorporating new technology, emissions reductions and cost savings in the process,” says Scott Whitfill, director of maintenance at WFS.
Among the types of units that will undergo the refurbishment include bag tractors, belt loaders, pushbacks and pallet loaders. Additional types of equipment will be considered in the future, though it is dependant upon the economic return and the potential life extension of each unit, according to Whitfill.
The company has decided that the investment in labor and materials to do the projects in-house is a good one. “Based on our own knowledge of rebuilding equipment, we know that it is possible to run an in-house program more economically than outsourcing the work,” he says.
The Mesa location will initially have a manager, staff assistant and three to five mechanics to run the projects.
The company views a blend of acquisition and rebuilding of GSE as bringing the most economic benefit. “Naturally, WFS would like to simply go out and buy or lease all new equipment however, to reach our goals we must also be financially responsible,” he says. “Therefore, by having a blend of rebuild and acquisition we get the most benefit for the company.”
WFS anticipates that each unit selected to be rebuilt will be at least 10 years old, and that a zero-time refurbishment will add about 8 or more years to the unit life.
In addition to zero-timing units, the company also expects to convert certain units to electric, Whitfill says.
The facility will also provide guidance for other stations in need of assistance with equipment. “A side benefit to having a centralized facility like this is that we will have a concentrated resource of GSE knowledge available to all other WFS stations,” says Bob Maier, director of planning and control GSE. “Therefore, if a station has a problem with a piece of equipment, one call to the Mesa Rebuild Shop provides them with years of knowledge to assist in quickly resolving the problem at hand, as a team.”
In addition to renewing its own fleet of GSE, the company has planned to launch refurbishment services as a line of business for its airline customers at a later date. “We want to first have an impact on our own fleet as well as developing a solid program before going outside,” Whitfill says.
The Southwest Program
Many refurbishing and repowering projects have been ongoing for years throughout the industry, with some airlines completing the work in-house.
Southwest Airlines has served as an example. The carrier has established two shops dedicated to GSE renewal, one in Phoenix and one in Dallas.
The shop in Dallas is devoted to rebuilding and upgrading fossil fuel equipment. It has various ongoing projects in place with units being upgraded on an as-needed basis. The work has been ongoing for more than 15 years.
The shop in Phoenix currently has undergone a repowering project of converting gas and diesel engines to electric. “Right now we’re focused on belt loaders and pushback tractors and no other products at this time, and we’re doing this to meet emission goals for the state of California and beyond,” says Larry Laney, director of GSE at Southwest. “It is our goal to refurbish a piece of equipment for 50 percent of the cost of new or less. If we can accomplish our goal, we know it makes economical sense and we will save money. We plan on continuing our combination of buying new bag tugs, beltloaders, and pushbacks as well as refurbishing and converting equipment to electric as a way to keep our fleet fresh and meet our emission and environmental stewardship goals.”