KCI Develops Solar-Powered Passenger Ramp

Feb. 20, 2014

Alaska Airlines has been testing out a solar-powered passenger ramp manufactured by Keith Consolidated Industries, White City, OR, at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport.

The ramp is charged by four separate solar cells strategically positioned around the ramp to allow for constant charging regardless of the ramp position and time of day, says Mike Keith, sales manager with Keith Consolidated Industries.

The four cells are capable of putting nearly 1 kw of input into the system. The two motors draw 60 to 80 amps under power each and the lighting system uses minimal power due to energy efficient LEDs and a computer system ensuring they are only active when needed.

If the weather doesn't cooperate, the solar ramps can be relatively easily plugged into a regular electric GSE charging station, Keith adds. As a fail safe, the ramp can also be hitched to a tug if the drive motors ever fail.

 But Keith told us the ramp out on test have worked reliably on solar power. A fully charged battery provides enough power to operate the ramp for about four days.

The aluminum ramp is driven up to the aft door of a 737 and is covered with nonslip material. Three switchbacks provide a gentle slope easy to push up a wheelchair. Once the unit drives up to the aircraft, a self-leveling ramp is lowered into place forming a bridge to the door. Set at a right angle to the boarding door, it automatically guides deplaning passengers away from the aircraft to the terminal building.

While it may save money in terms of energy cost, the ramp also cuts boarding time by up to 10 minutes.
San Jose was chosen to test the ramp because the employees have experience boarding passengers from both ends of the plane using ramps and a stair truck before moving to a new terminal with jetways in 2010. The test began in January 2013.

A second prototype was deployed at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in July 2013 with improvements like better solar cell placement and a more robust energy system to support the upgrade.

KCI has been specializing in producing “all-in-one” ramps since early-2000. “All-in-one” means no switching between stairs, lifts or other boarding equipment. According to the company’s Web site, the utilitarian ramps can cut passenger embarking/disembarking times by as much as 60 percent.

Late last year, Keith told us about another innovation for the ramps at SeaTac. The company outfitted the canopy with special lights to mimic the blue lights found in the interior of the Dreamliner.