About 10 percent of all ground support equipment is currently electric, and while the e-GSE share holds steadily across all types of ramp equipment, that share isn’t likely to go up dramatically without a guarantee of better battery performance or an increase in funding to purchase the equipment.
That’s what we learned after sending out a survey to a select group of Ground Support Worldwide readers last February.
Our reasons for conducting the survey were simple:
- To judge the current market for e-GSE,
- To see what future buying trends might be.
Our survey went out to a broad group of Ground Support Worldwide readers that included service providers, airlines, FBOs and airports. The majority (41 percent) were “ground handlers/service providers” and 82 percent indicated that they had direct or supervisory influence over purchasing new or used e-GSE.
Most of our respondents had less than $100,000 as their 2013 budget to buy new or used e-GSE, with the rest ranging from $101,000 to past $1 million. The majority of respondents (65 percent) indicated they were not able to spend all of their e-GSE budget last year either because of outright budget cuts or that the money might be carried over to this year.
Question: Taking your current total GSE inventory into account, what is the percentage represented by e-GSE?
10 percent or less 57 percent
Between 11-25 percent 23 percent
Between 26-50 percent 6 percent
Between 51-75 percent 6 percent
Between 76-100 percent 6 percent
We wanted to judge when some of the first e-GSE was purchased, and we heard from readers who said they may have seen their first piece of e-GSE at some point in the late-1980s.
For our part, we dug up a news story that indicated American Airlines was the first carrier in the United States to replace all its fossil-fueled equipment with electric models at the El Paso International Airport. The story was dated 2001, but said that the airline started the push for electric equipment in 1996 and gave priority to airports in cities with severe air quality issues deemed “serious” non-attainment designations by the EPA. (Such designations later became one of the main reasons the FAA started the Voluntary Airport Low Emissions Program in 2004.)
We chose to go back 20 years, since 20 years ago readers would have been paging through the second issue of GSE Today (the former name of our publication.)
Question: Has this overall percentage of e-GSE changed in the past 20 years?
Yes, by at least 10 percentage points. 32 percent
Yes, but by less than 10 percent points. 21 percent
No. The percentage has remained the same. 46 percent
We also asked about product categories for e-GSE and received a fairly steady, equivalent 10 percent use of electric equipment for cargo, belt loaders, pushbacks/tugs and other service vehicles.
Finally, we asked readers to rank the importance of the following attributes when it came time to deicing which brand of new or used e-GSE to purchase. (We’ve only listed the “most important” tallies for this question.)
Battery performance 78 percent
Reliability 78 percent
Support 61 percent
Price 59 percent
Maintenance 59 percent
Total cost of ownership 52 percent
Availability 43 percent
If by the “future” we just measure the rest of 2013, the buying power for equipment seems to be there. When asked about budgets, most of the respondents (57 percent) said they had either “the same as 2012” or “more than 2012” to spend on purchasing new or used e-GSE.
If by the “future” we mean the next 10 years, the results are a mixed blessing. Yes, readers do anticipate purchasing more e-GSE across all product categories, but those yes votes don’t reach much past the 50 percent mark, with the votes for “less” or “the same,” of course, filling out practically an equal share.
Question:Over the next 10 years, do you anticipate that you will purchase more, less or the same amount of new or used e-GSE for the following product categories?
More 50 percent
Less 21 percent
The same 29 percent
More 52 percent
Less 31 percent
The same 17 percent
More 41 percent
Less 41 percent
The same 18 percent
More 40 percent
Less 13 percent
The same 29 percent
More 40 percent
Less 32 percent
The same 28 percent
What might be stopping readers from purchasing more e-GSE? While it’s difficult to use statistics to determine individual motives, that’s never stopped us in the past so here are a few answers worth considering:
- When asked whether they had directly used or been a participant of VALE funding and/or other sources of public money to purchase e-GSE, a strong 75 percent of our respondents said “no.”
- On the other hand, when asked if public funding were available that would allow, say, a ground handling service provider to directly purchase e-GSE, a resounding 73 percent said “yes.”
So everyone likes “free.” VALE isn’t the only source of funds for e-GSE, but it is the best-known.
In fiscal year 2011, the FAA issued VALE grants for 12 projects at 11 airports for low-emission projects. Since 2005, the FAA has funded 52 low-emission projects at 30 airports representing a total investment of $138 million ($109 million in federal grants and $29 million in local airport matching funds) in clean airport technology.
But there’s another, maybe more troublesome, issue than funding that could be stopping or at least slowing down the purchase of more e-GSE.
Question:What type of batteries power the majority of your e-GSE?
Rechargeable lead acid 86 percent
Lithium ion 14 percent
Then, when asked how satisfied they were with the performance of e-GSE, i.e., runtimes vs. downtimes for recharging, a little over a third (37 percent) of our respondents said they were “satisfied” with almost as many (41 percent) that said they were “neutral.” Couple that with one of the answers above that indicated how important battery performance is to purchasing decisions.
Finally, our very last question was this:
Question:Which one of the following statements most closely describes your opinion regarding the future of e-GSE?
1) E-GSE performs well within a mix of non-electric equipment, but it would take a huge change in battery performance for e-GSE to make up the majority of GSE inventory 60 percent
2) The higher energy prices rise and the tougher environmental regulation get on non-electric power sources, the more likely I will choose e-GSE 27 percent
3) E-GSE will never command a large share of the market since its first costs are higher than non-electric GSE 13 percent
Taking all those answers into account for future purchases, we’re led to believe that battery technology has to improve no matter how “free” sources of funding make the equipment out to be. Can lead acid technology do more? Or can lithium power come down in price? And what about the matter of funding overall? We’ll talk more about these matters in our next issue.