Transitioning GSE Fleets to Electric

Insights on efficiently evolving GSE to the new electric-powered paradigm


Electrification of ground support vehicles and equipment is part of a global effort toward cleaner airport transportation. There has been much discussion about the benefits. Airports and airlines save significantly in operating costs by implementing green transportation because it is far less expensive in the long term, according to some industry estimates. Naturally, the environmental benefit is immense, as fuel consumption is reduced and air quality is improved, especially in indoor facilities. With the growing trend toward electric equipment, the focus is now on transitioning fleets.

How do you begin to approach this transformation? How can you justify and sustain the expense? The good news is, you can ease into electrification and not get caught short when legislation begins to demand it. The even better news is, your shift to electrically powered GSE will pay for itself within a few years … and can then start producing significant operational savings.

Getting there from the Ground Up
If you are looking to board this movement early, you will need solid support from reliable experts.

You might get some guidance from the FAA’s Office of Airports Community and Environmental Needs Division or state and local based nonprofits such as the New York Power Authority, for example. It is also beneficial to cooperate with a supplier that specializes in electric vehicle systems.

It is still early in the process of electrification. There are approximately 72,000 GSE units currently in use in the United States, a mere 10 percent of which are electric; but the opportunities to go electric are everywhere. From tugs, tractors, baggage handlers, cargo loaders, belt-loaders, personnel carriers to mobile stairways, ground power units and free-standing generators, all support equipment and infrastructure will ultimately be involved in the changeover.

Conversions of combustion sources to clean electric vehicle (EV) technologies will have a major positive impact on the environment and the bottom line. As mentioned in the March 2008 edition of Ground Support Worldwide, research conducted by the New York Power Authority (NYPA) showed that a single internal combustion (IC) powered tug emits 54 tons of greenhouse gases, burning 3,248 gallons of diesel per year. And, according to John Markowitz, electric transportation engineer for NYPA, electric GSE are 90 percent cleaner and 75 percent less expensive to operate — even after taking power plant emissions into account.

The Retrofitting Option
Replacing existing IC-powered GSE with new EVs is best done as equipment is decommissioned. In the meantime, it is very feasible to retrofit. For example, Sacramento International Airport instituted a program to deploy 54 alternative fuel vehicles of various types. Among these vehicles were 20 belt loaders converted from gasoline to electric power, saving the airlines that owned them $10,000 per vehicle compared to purchasing new. EPRI offers a tool to assess the cost effectiveness of retrofitting from diesel to electric, based on your application. This tool can be found at http://avt.inel.gov/groundsupport.shtml.

Using the tug as an example, all the working components of an IC system can be replaced by electric. Thus, the vehicle continues to perform for its full life-span, while beginning to deliver real benefits in operational and cost efficiency, as well as the environmental benefits.

Operational Advantages
The benefits of the electric “evolution” are many. Before assessing the global impact, think about the advantages to your operation:

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