Road to Restoration

Refurbishing and repowering projects keep GSE fleets updated.


Southwest’s additional shop locations may also complete projects. “Although our 21 other GSE shops around the system do not have dedicated staff to perform major refurbishment programs, they occasionally overhaul equipment for their city or region,” he says.

When it comes to making the decision to rebuild or buy new, Laney says several items should be considered. “You need to factor in the total cost of labor, material, shipping, can you get parts moving forward to support the equipment or is it so flat out obsolete that it needs to be replaced, lack of warranty, etc.”

He adds, “Taking these things into consideration and if you can refurbish equipment for around 50 percent of new, then it makes sense to strategically select some fleet types to rebuild. Our outstanding GSE mechanics at Southwest Airlines have done a great job controlling our cost on these projects and have made it possible for this program to be a strategic option for us.”

American Airlines’ Strategy

American Airlines has also identified great value in rebuilding some unit types within its network. Having formulated an entire fleet renewal program for its GSE, the carrier has taken on GSE rebuilding projects in-house. To evaluate potential candidates for refurbishment, as well as incorporating new technology, it created a steering committee comprised of American’s GSE users and mechanics.

One type of vehicle that was selected was bag tractors. The 15- to 20-year old units were selected after a cost analysis showed the airline could do it at about 40 percent the cost of new equipment, according to Gary Bird, director of ground support equipment and facilities maintenance at American Airlines.

The airline has rebuilt about 400 of about 900 bag tractors since May 2009, refurbishing an average of 10 tractors per week. With the refurbishment efforts occurring in a 12,000-square-foot facility in St. Louis, the airline zero-timed the units while upgrading some parts — such as rust corrosion primer/paint, LED lighting, redesigned wiring harness, electric cooling fan, 2nd generation electronic fuel injection system, simplified dashboard gauges, standardized wheel size and more durable seating. “We didn’t really restore the tractor, we remanufactured the tractor,” he says. “While many of these changes are internal to the tractor, we changed the appearance, such as the LED lighting and a new paints scheme, which establishes a separate identity on the ramp.”

And the airline has worked to standardize many of the internal mechanisms in the tugs to streamline the work of mechanics, as well as simplify the demand for parts. “We chose the most common tractor that we had,” he says. “We have one type of engine and one type of transmission – everything in the 900 tractors will be identical.”

Another project that is underway by the carrier is the refurbishment of about 60 widebody loaders in five cities: Miami, Chicago, Dallas, New York City and Los Angeles. With two mechanics on duty at each location to complete the project, the primary focus has been on rebuilding hydraulic systems. “Hydraulics are very critical for the widebody loader,” he says. “We brought the critical parts and processes down to zero-time.”

Bird says the rebuilding projects have been very successful overall for American Airlines, so more projects are in the pipeline. “We’re already looking at the next equipment type,” he says. “We’ve identified four or five types of equipment that make much more sense to take this approach of restoration than it does to replace.”

Partnership for Renewal

US Airways has also worked on updating its fleet over the past few years, working with a third-party, Hercules Engine Components, to zero-time bag tugs and belt loaders. With that project having come to a close, US Airways is now repowering belt loaders in Charlotte with newer Tier 3 diesel engines.

The project has been partially funded through the Mecklenburg County GRADE (Grant to Replace Aging Diesel Engines) program in North Carolina. The company will be updating about 40 models that date back to the 1980s.

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