Eco-Friendly Building, Eco-Friendly GSE

Nov. 7, 2011
US Airways builds a new green GSE maintenance facility and steps up its electric GSE at PHL

US Airways Inc. opened a new $22 million GSE maintenance facility last month at the Philadelphia International Airport (PHL), the latest move in going green for both the airline and the airport.

The 57,000-square-foot building consolidates separate sites ground support maintenance operations used to keep the airline’s 700 pieces of motorized equipment and 1,200 pieces of nonmotorized equipment in top shape to handle more than 400 flights a day.

The new facility features 16 vehicle maintenance bays, each equipped with overhead lube racks and vehicle exhaust systems, four overhead cranes that can move through the work space, a two-bay weld shop and nine in-ground lifts – two of which are rated at 150,000 pounds, the first such installation in the United States. If all this weren’t enough, the stockroom delivers needed parts with just the touch of a button.

“Every bay has what it needs, so we are already seeing an improvement in our turnaround time,” says James Brewer, manager of the GSE maintenance facility, which employs 70 mechanics.

The airline also went the extra step in building the facility to LEED standards. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is an internationally recognized green building certification process providing third-party certification that a building will save on energy and water use, and is designed to take into account other environmental matters.

“It was a non-choice,” says Allan Seaman, director of corporate real estate for the airline’s construction division, about the decision to build the facility to such high green building standards. Seaman added his company has gone green at other airports as well as for its own corporate purposes.

US Airways’ Phoenix, AZ, headquarters, for example, received LEED Gold status. But that gold star was for renovating an existing building rather than building from scratch. The airline’s GSE maintenance facility is also the first project at PHL to be in the running for LEED status.

To build to such a level of green specification the facility used, for example, recycled construction materials – accounting for almost 40 percent of the building’s total building inventory. To cut down on pollution to just deliver materials to the job site, about a third of all its construction materials were sourced nearby.

One of the LEED features, designed to cut down on electricity to light the work space, has already helped the technicians make needed repairs. Large windows set well above the floor provide ample natural light – something in short supply at one of the other sites the ground support crew used before moving into the new building.

                Before the move, GSE maintenance staff worked out of three sites. One building was the original US Airways cargo facility. The building’s lighting wasn’t conducive to working on GSE, says Brewer.

“It was very dark on the late afternoon and midnight shifts,” Brewer adds. “That made it very difficult to see what you were working on without bringing in drop lights, and then there were extension cords running all over the place. Just the lighting alone at the new building is a huge step up.”

The cargo facility had another drawback. Its floors couldn’t handle its largest pushbacks so Brewer’s crew had to take over a percentage of the airline’s hangar space for the heavyweight work. Even then, mechanics could spend an hour setting up mobile lifts before the vehicle left the ground. With the new site, Brewer’s workforce can simply drive into a service bay and make use of the lifts.

“Five minutes later,” Brewer says, “they’re making the repairs. That’s great productivity.”

The GSE maintenance crew also worked out of one more building simply because everyone needed the elbow room. Brewer helped design the new facility’s floor plan and, after being in ground support since 1976, stipulated all he needed to move personnel and equipment through one perfect building.

“We moved in on a Friday,” he adds, “and by the following Tuesday, we were up and running.”

Plus, the new building goes even one better, according to Tama Mohelzitzky, director of Ground Service Maintenance.

“We actually have a wash bay,” she explains. “That’s a first. Plus, we also have a paint booth. So now we’re able to wash the equipment and paint it. Normally, if we wanted to paint, it meant sending it off to a vendor.”


Some of the newest pieces of GSE parked at the new shop might be from a year-old fleet of 38 electric tugs. The airline’s investment in electric equipment goes hand-in-hand with PHL’s larger goal of reducing its carbon footprint.

As part its ongoing Green Airport Initiative, PHL partnered with US Airways to purchase the electric equipment. Through funding from the FAA’s Voluntary Airport Low Emissions (VALE) program, PHL installed the needed recharging stations and related infrastructure. PHL was awarded $15 million in VALE dollars to pay for this electrification project as well as fund other environmental programs.

To date, PHL has installed 116 charging units with 232 charging ports throughout the airport. PHL figures that the chargers and the use of electric GSE will reduce fuel consumption by more than 225,000 gallons annually to say nothing of the elimination of tons of harmful emissions.

In turn, US Airways also used the VALE funds to offset the difference in price between conventional and electric models. While the money certainly made the investment in electric GSE easier, Brewer says the new equipment means less maintenance and less downtime.

“In a couple of years,” Brewer explains, “the electric equipment will pay for itself as a result.”

The only downside, of course, is that “you have to tie them up,” Brewer adds, meaning he has to take the electric GSE out of service for charging.

“A good 8-hour charge overnight is what you need,” he says, “but you can get by with 6 hours or try to fit in some ‘opportunity’ charges during the day when you can.”

With a solid overnight charge, Brewer says “the baggage tractors can last through two shifts.”

In the near-term, the airline plans to add to its eco-friendly GSE fleet to go along with its eco-friendly maintenance facility.

“Between Express and Mainline, we have more than 70 pieces of electric GSE,” Mohelnitsky says. Seventy-three pieces to be exact. PHL officials also believe that number will climb past 130 by the end of next year as US Airways adds to its numbers and other airlines do the same.

“The more electric equipment we add,” Mohelnitzky says, “the more chargers we’ll need. The airport will have to keep up with us.”