A Multifunctional Approach

Fortbrand Services, founded in 1983, was originally established to serve the ground support equipment (GSE) side of the aviation industry.

Today, half of the business is in airfield equipment, says company executive vice president, Alan Stearn.

Fortbrand Services is the exclusive North American distributor for a wide range of airport snow removal and maintenance equipment, including the Vammas line of runway snow removal vehicles manufactured by Al-Jon Manufacturing; the Beam A8000 Multi-Task Airport Service Vehicle; and the Hagie GST 20 sprayer, edge light plow, and flail mower.

Fortbrand entered into the multi-function equipment arena in the mid ‘90s, relates vice president Peter Stearn. He comments, “We saw multifunction technology over in Europe where it’s been available since the ‘80s, and thought it could be applied in North America to kind of revolutionize the approach to snow removal at airports here.”

Working With Airports

Says Peter Stearn, “Typically what we’ll do when we meet a new airport that we haven’t worked with before — we’ll get a map of their runway configuration and layout, talk to them about the equipment they currently have, the number of employees available for a shift or a snow event, and then we’ll come up with a snow plan for them with what we think is the appropriate amount of equipment for their airport and for their staffing capabilities.

With regard to challenges faced by operations and maintenance managers today, “I think the major pressure is cost pressure — so whether it’s having to do more with less personnel, or dealing with tight capital budgets, controlling costs is key,” says Alan Stearn.

Peter Stearn agrees, stating that many airports have indicated they’ve had to delay normal replacement cycles, whereas maybe they replace certain equipment every ten or 15 years, that’s being pushed back by two to four years because budgets have been reduced so dramatically.

Specific Applications

The underlying theme behind the inherent value of multifunctional airfield equipment is in utilizing the equipment for more than one purpose. Multifunctional equipment can bring with it many benefits, including: safety improvements; reduction in amount of labor required; better utilization of human resources; increased productivity and efficiency improvements; and overall equipment lifecycle cost savings, says Alan Stearn.

Remarks Peter Stearn, “At JFK, for instance, they just purchased their second Hagie unit, and are considering aquiring another one — they’ve had some particular issues with bird strikes and they’re going to use the ‘flail mower’ function more extensively than they had, and also use the spray boom to apply herbicides to diminish the amount of brush and other places that the birds were using for their habitat and breeding grounds.

“With the Beam unit at the Manchester Airport in New Hampshire, they use it practically every day because it’s used as a street sweeper on the landside; they use it to clean out their storm drains and sewers; they use for rubber removal — so they utilize all the functions it can perform on a year-round basis.”

The Vammas snow removal equipment speaks for itself, says Stearn. “Once airports were able to clean the runways using minimal predictable time frames, and have a consistency in their snow removal operation, they could tell the tower they needed the runway for ten minutes, and the tower could space out aircraft landing rates. Knowing when the runway would be ready changed the whole nature of that operation.”

Maintenance; Trends

With the Vammas snow removal equipment, airport operators are looking at somewhere around a 15 year-plus lifecycle, says Stearn. The Hagie unit has a ten-12 year lifecycle.

He adds, “Most of the airports maintain their own equipment; they all have trained professional mechanics. One part of our program is training both the operators and the mechanics so they do a good a job at maintaining the equipment.”

With regard to future trends, Stearn comments, “I think that the trend of multifunctionality, or equipment that can be utilized to perform several different functions on a year round basis, will continue.

“If you could find one piece of equipment to do everything, it would be the biggest seller in the world. The trend is going to continue so that airports can have fewer pieces of equipment requiring less maintenance and manpower.

“The airports come back to us sometimes and say, ‘We love this ... is there any way you could add this attachment to it,’ — and we agree that almost anything can be done at a cost, so it’s a matter of filtering the ideas and coming up with things that can be produced and engineered in a cost-effective way.

“I’m sure multifunction equipment will continue to evolve, it’s just a matter of modifying and tweaking what’s out there.”