Information is Power

Aug. 19, 2019
Ground service providers are using telematics data built from GSE to identify potential problems and resolve them quickly.

Idling engines, maintenance paper trails, fleets of all shapes and sizes, unauthorized personnel driving vehicles, excessive shocks, misplaced assets – these are just a few of the issues that telematics’ technology is solving for ground support providers.

“The most successful projects are those where the customer either knows or suspects they have problems in certain areas and uses telematics data to identify the size and complexity of the problems,” says Steve Loftus, technical sales manager at the Ortus Group.

He says only then can a client formulate an effective strategy to reduce or eradicate the problems. Then, the telematics data again will prove the strategy’s effectiveness.

“Pretty much every other industry has been using telematics for many years, and telematics equipment is now considered part of the ‘standard fit’ for a vehicle fleet,” Loftus says. “I have worked with a wide variety of clients over the past 20 years and an even wider range of vehicle types. In retrospect, it seems odd that the airport industry has not taken advantage of the proven benefits of telematics sooner.”

The “typical” list of top tasks GSE handlers are looking for in telematics includes fleet utilization, fuel usage, maintenance and repair information, security and safety measures, client billing and overall visibility of assets, explains Stephen Brown, vice president of sales Enterprise SaaS with Inseego, whose corporate office is located in San Diego, Calif.

Brown has nearly 30 years of experience in the technology world and now works with Inseego, which acquired Novatel Wireless and Ctrack, the company’s telematics’ solution just a few years back.

Across the ocean, in the south of France, Karim Ben Dhia, president of Adveez, says that telematics is just one piece of the bigger puzzle.

“Our job today is to try and digitize everything on the tarmac, to send it through the cloud,” he says.

Top Benefits of Telematics

Avoid Accidents

Driving behavior is a big deal. Telematics’ solutions can report infractions such as speeding, harsh breaking, acceleration or cornering when an employee is driving expensive ground support equipment.

Because of this, Ben Dhia says accidents can be prevented with the use of telematics.

“GSE providers want to know who is driving the equipment for security reasons, but also the equipment is very specific and need trained people to drive them,” he says. “If people aren’t trained, many accidents will occur.”

Loftus agrees. He says Ortus’ Driver ID can identify who is driving, but if an infraction or accident does occur, telematics allows a recap to be conducted.

“The entire journey can be replayed to see exactly what actions the driver took, for example, when the brake pedal was pushed, whether the indicators, lights, wipers (etc.) were active, how harshly the vehicle was being driven, steering wheel angle, etc.,” he notes.

While telematics systems are not a total solution to avoiding accidents, many in the industry concur that the technology helps deter dangerous activities on the airfield.

“If somebody is driving unsafe around the airport or using a high value asset in an unauthorized area or purpose, you’re going to know who that is and can take action,” says Brown. 

Optimize Fleet Usage

When Delta Air Lines acquired Northwest Airlines, Brown says their fleet size doubled.

“How do you deal with that?” he asks before explaining that telematics have been instrumental in helping ground support providers accurately track fleet usage.

“Once you can get your arms around how much of that equipment you actually need, you can impact capital budgets by 10 percent right off the top, conservatively speaking,” Brown adds. “Now you have the ability to know where every single one of those assets are, when and where they are being used and when to deploy them to dramatically enhance efficiency.” 

In a five-year contract with Gatwick Airport, Ortus’ telematics system, Airsight, will help the airport monitor the safety and efficiency of its fleet, but also analyze the activities, safety and compliance of more than 2,000 airside vehicles.

Implementing telematics has already helped Gatwick gain some “quick wins” in identifying bottlenecks, which are impacting efficiency. Loftus says the data is presented in a variety of formats, but the heatmap clearly shows the density of certain activities and vehicle movements of the airport.

“Gatwick then uses this information to plan how to reduce or eliminate the bottlenecks,” he says.


Ben Dhia explains that telematics can track maintenance needs for ground support equipment. The data on how many hours a piece has been in service since its last maintenance check is automatically recorded via the software, versus a staff person walking to each unit and tracking hour meters.

It also provides a much faster response for maintenance needs, as an alarm on the vehicle alerts staff to low fluid levels, air pressure on tires and more.

“General maintenance becomes more efficient and the reaction time is better,” Ben Dhia adds. “Once you start telematics, you can plan your maintenance.”

Brown says that relying on data for preventative maintenance and digitizing paper processes to eliminate human error are major benefits telematics provide in this area. The traditional calendar-based approach works. But if a piece of equipment isn’t used the full amount of time expected in that period or goes over the number of hours planned, he explains only a telematics solution can provide the contextual information for a much clearer picture leading to additional cost savings.

“We put data to it, and data wins debates,” he says.  

Reduce Excess Idle Time

Brown notes that excess idle time is a “plague” in the GSE field, and that many financial pros are constantly looking for ways to cut fuel costs. The airplanes are not necessarily the biggest wasters, either, he adds. 

“We have seen instances where equipment sits idle overnight because people are irresponsible, parking at the gate because they didn’t want to have to walk back,” he states.

In a current study for one airline, a small sample of just 27 of the 72 assets logged 398 hours of excess idle time in 14 days. This translated into about $260,000 in fuel wasted annually. Now, imagine that across an entire fleet; the savings could be in the 10’s of millions.

“It’s scary,” Brown says. “Once the telematics system is installed, you can start to see very easily how to pay yourself back and have that system paying you by just getting some of this fuel usage under control.” 

Security and Access Control

According to Ben Dhia, in Europe 99 percent of installations include the access control portion, where the United States has not adopted that practice yet. The need is there, however, as most of the equipment on a tarmac is free for anyone to use, trained or untrained, he says. Ben Dhia says Belgian ground support provider Aviapartner pulled Adveez into the telematics’ business when the company was looking for a fast installation product that can offer data and access control.

The access control portion helps manage who drives equipment based on their training and authorization to do so.

“By knowing who is driving, that usually reduces the number of accidents drastically,” Ben Dhia notes. “And if something does happen, we know who did it.”

All of these benefits truly translate into enhanced accountability of ground support equipment operators.

“When users know their name is inside the system, they will be very cautious,” he adds.

Taking Action

Telematics help ground support managers take action that is based on raw data, industry professionals agree.

Brown explains that for safety and security needs, the system can either trigger an alert to the staff in real time on site, but also could take immediate action on its own, by shutting down a piece of equipment left running. Even further, if a user is being unsafe, personalized parameters and geo-zones can be established within the telematics’ system to send alarms if they are taken out of “bounds,” so to speak.

When it comes to fuel and battery performance, telematics allows staff and managers to keep tabs on levels and as Loftus says, provide powerful insights into fleet operations.

He adds, though, that the GSE organization also needs to invest time and effort into analyzing the information and putting it into context.

“Installing a telematics device into a vehicle will not suddenly improve the vehicle’s fuel economy by 20 percent,” Loftus explains. “The vehicle usage data needs to be analyzed to identify where efficiencies can be made.”

In one example, Brown says an airline had invested a significant amount of money to purchase 66 batteries, and within six months, 27 had failed. Only two were from manufacture defects; the others were due to over- or under-charging the battery. 


“Adoption is always difficult,” Brown says, and adds that a reason Inseego’s solution caught on quickly with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines was because the company helps identify the exact usage of the GSE in a shared services environment down to the second and by whom, which digitized and automated billing to save time.

Ben Dhia agrees that while many ground support providers are looking to telematics to address challenges in their fleets, there is an investment to be made up front.  

“That’s the biggest challenge we have seen,” he says. “We help them demonstrate that return on investment and show they can reduce the amount of equipment because data proves its usage is limited or negligible.”

With a variety of options on the table for telematics, one thing all three professionals agree is that the return on investment is evident and imminent.

It may take time to completely adopt the technology, but telematics systems are here to stay, and ground support managers are starting to see the benefits.