According to a 2003-2004 British Airways study on airport air quality, “APUs on aircraft are often necessary to provide a source of on board electrical, pneumatic and hydraulic power for the aircraft, and a source of air for the aircraft’s air conditioning systems. Although small by comparison with an aircraft’s main engines, APUs may be required to operate for a significantly longer time on the ground, and therefore cannot be ignored.
“By opting for fixed electrical ground power (FEGP) and pre-conditioned air (PCA) whenever it is available, the emissions from ground power units (GPUs), mobile ground generators and APUs, can be minimized and emissions reduced as a result.”
Along those lines, one area that has taken a quantum leap forward is ground power generation. Rapidly fading into obscurity are the days of fuel-guzzling gas turbine generator sets, with the majority being replaced by more fuel-efficient diesel models or fully electric solid-state power converters. Use of aluminum versus steel in cabinet and frame construction has reduced towed weight significantly, resulting in ease of handling and additional fuel savings from tow vehicles.
The advent of computer technology has reduced diagnostic and maintenance costs as well. Many units on the market today encompass fully-integrated diagnostic software packages, event storing features and error reporting tools. In addition, modern weather-proof enclosures not only provide protection from the elements, they reduce sound-level DB attenuation as well.
With many of the above listed advances incorporated into heating, ventilating and cooling systems (HVAC) as well, environmental control has become a benchmark for industry progress. Utilizing facility hard-mounting or truck/trailer mounted units, modern HVAC systems boast a wide variety of power plants and propulsion methods. Newer and more environmentally friendly refrigerants such as R-134a and R-410a aim at reducing hydrocarbon emissions, and in this area, GSE leads commercial facilities by an enormous margin. Fully automated temperature controls and advanced protection and control features have resulted in “walk away” systems supporting unattended operation.
Of course, none of these advances would be possible without an equally well-equipped support staff. Any system is only as good as the technicians who support it, and those technicians increasingly depend on a diverse array of training solutions.
Disciplines unheard of a decade ago, from on-board computer maintenance to in-office database administration, have become integral components in the ground support professional’s tool kit. Environmental protection and hazardous waste (HAZMAT) containment and disposal have tremendous liability and potential for error, and require training programs that address those issues in a solid and conscientious manner.
Progressive education in both the military and civil aviation sectors has proven crucial to optimizing productivity and maximizing the lifespan of the new technology, and this promises to be a burgeoning area, consuming a growing portion of the ground support budget for the foreseeable future. As in all maintenance endeavors, quality PGSE support requires the dedicated planning and organization of those skilled professionals entrusted to the care of the equipment. Based on the progress I have seen in the last 25 years, that equipment remains in qualified, capable hands.