Burbank: All Charged Up

Several years in negotiations, two years in the making and ahead of schedule; Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport exemplifies the process of conversion from an entire diesel GSE fleet to zero-emissions vehicles.

The chargers installed at the Airport feature special fast-charge capability that is critical for equipment reliability. With 52 flights a day and with GSE being vital to the movement of people and luggage to and from the aircraft, it was necessary to convert at least 50 pieces of equipment including tugs, belt loaders, air stairs, wheelchair lifts and pushback tractors. The fast-charge ‘PosiCharge’ feature, manufactured by AeroVironment, “means we can keep batteries charged more efficiently and reliably and avoid having to add extra backup ground service equipment,” explains Laney. Another advantage of the system, as noted by Ryan Gibson, ground service product manager for AeroVironment, is the ‘smart’ technology enabling a unit to operate for its first turn in 15 minutes as opposed to the conventional two hour charging period. “In addition, PosiCharge batteries can be charged during slow periods throughout the day without developing “memories” that shorten battery run time, thanks to the proprietary technology that safeguards batteries by measuring temperature and customizing charge,” says Gibson.


According to Southern California Edison, based on average daily electric consumption and average commercial electric rates, it would cost $3.97 per day to fuel an electric belt loader. The comparable fuel costs for a gasoline belt loader would run $8.18 — more than double the electric fuel costs.

Use of electric-powered models also eliminates the need for tune-ups, engine overhauls, exhaust system replacement, transmission maintenance, oil, other engine fluid changes and more. This need for less maintenance translates to another benefit: increased reliability. Gasoline- and diesel-powered belt loaders and tugs have an average service life of three to five years, with the electric versions lasting five to seven years. Typical maintenance costs for an electric belt loader and an electric tug (including battery replacement costs) average $978 and $1,406 per year, respectively. The same costs for the gasoline models reach an annual average of $1,165 and $1,893.

Airports and airlines that choose electric GSE may realize additional economic benefits by offsetting the capital cost of equipment purchases through tax credits, utility rebates and other incentives.


Southwest’s conversions include 16 out of 18 baggage tugs; 12 belt loaders; 13 stairs; 3 wheelchair lifts and 5 out of 6 pushback tractors. Bill Chamberlin, Southwest Airlines manager will tell you that the prime benefit of using this electric ground support equipment is the reduction of emissions from the previously used diesel equipment. Policy director for the Clean Air Coalition, Todd Campbell, referenced a study from the University of Southern California released a year ago showing that exposure to pollutants causing smog can stunt lung growth in children. “By electrifying its ground support, Bob Hope is protecting children’s health, the community’s health and the health of the workers at the airport,” says Campbell.

Currently, five other airports in the country are heading up projects similar to BGP Airport. It’s a plain and simple fact, the sooner that airports take the initiative to build the charging infrastructure, the sooner the airlines will go electric.

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