Clean Air Conundrum
The European ground support industry has long been at the forefront of developments in clean air GSE, but the US is catching up fast. Europe's difficulty is deciding on which technology to embrace and who should pay for it, writes Richard Rowe.
By Michelle Garetson/p>
By Richard Rowe
Displaying all the religious zeal of the newly converted, airline GSE managers in the US are working feverishly with manufacturers on developing alternative fuel vehicles. Europeans will smile ruefully considering the United States' less than positive reputation on environmental matters, but when it comes to the development of greener GSE, the US could soon be leading the pack.
Despite decades of experimentation, large-scale airline take up of alternative fuel GSE has been slow. This is largely because of prohibitive costs, inflexible technology and a feeling that such solutions were better suited to small-scale baggage hall applications rather than the more rugged ramp environment. Today, however, there is growing acknowledgement that current technology can contribute to cleaner air through lower emissions and offer the performance to match.
It is no coincidence that progress in the development of socalled clean air GSE is greatest where legislation is at its most stringent. US state and national regulations, particularly in California, New York and Texas, have seen airlines and airports in air quality non-attainment areas scramble to meet bullish requirements for conversion of existing fleets. The message from regulators is that sound environmental management can go hand-in-hand with efficient, cost effective operations.
By comparison, the European ground support industry has been switched on to clean air GSE for some time; high fossil fuel prices and an onus on linking environmental conditions with worker health and safety has seen some progressive thinking.
"The GSE industry's commitment to alternative fuel vehicles has been very strong over the past few years," Bruno Neyret, Operations Director, TLD Europe told GSE Today. "Nothing has really changed in a European market that has used electric vehicles for years. The US market, on the other hand, was late and reacted rapidly under the pressure of new emission laws."
But Europeans should not feel too smug; while environmental standards exist, uniformity is a long way off. Europe may have its CE rules on engine emissions, but there is currently no national or pan-European air quality legislation that requires airports to promote environmentally friendly GSE.
In addition, airlines and ground handlers from a variety of countries and cultures have different environmental policies and very different takes on corporate responsibility; actual operating standards differ from country to country and even from airport to airport.
The major issue is finding the right alternative fuel for the highly specialised application and duty cycle of GSE. More than ever, it is also about cost, with bottom line economics the major driving force.
For now, significant uncertainties remain in Europe over the commercial viabilities of various technologies, although electric technology is edging forward. "Generally, we find that ramp operators are receptive and enthusiastic towards electric vehicles," comments Roger James, Managing Director of the UK's Jumbo Tugs, a niche manufacturer of electric tow tractors. "However, because of the legacy of internal combustion engine vehicles, operators insist on comparing the parameters of the two."
While this is a natural comparison to make, James is not convinced of its relevance. "The initial cost of an electric vehicle is higher because of the battery and charger," he argues. "This is often overlooked and to make a true comparison it is important to add five years of fossil fuel. Given a true comparison, electric vehicles come top of the list every time."