New Lease on Life

Dec. 22, 2008
In a partnership with US Airways, Hercules Engine Components transforms aging GSE.

Faced with an aging fleet of diesel tow tractors and belt loaders, fleet managers at US Airways searched for a more economic alternative to simply replacing the equipment. “After coming out of bankruptcy and the merger, we were looking at options — a better, more cost-effective program,” says Dennis Jancart, vendor supervisor at US Airways.

Hercules Engine Components LLC, which supplied the airline with parts for the Hercules engines, offered an option in the form of engine repowering for the tugs and remanufacturing of cradles for the belt loaders. But new, cleaner engines didn’t remedy the external wear on the 20-year-old units. Responding to a request by the airline, Hercules branched out into a new service — “zero-time” refurbishment.

That was four years ago. The ongoing partnership has seen the complete zero-time refurbishment of more than 60 tugs and 30 belt loaders for US Airways, which the airline has expected will bring at least another 20 years of service life to each unit. “We’re hoping that we can get the same life out of them as what we had,” Jancart says. “We’ve found it to be a good program and cost effective and probably as close as you can get to a new vehicle.”

Recently, the company incorporated electric conversion of the GSE units into its zero-time refurbishment program, having completed the conversion of one tug for US Airways Express and in the process with a belt loader. It is a program that Hercules has hoped will appeal to the cost- and environmentally conscious nature of other airlines.

“Our niche is to take an old vehicle that’s badly worn, put it through our refurbishment program and when it leaves our facility, it is like new — it looks, rides and operates like new,” says Jack Dienes, president of Hercules Engine Components LLC.

With an average turnaround time for a unit being 30 days, the company has worked to bring each unit to zero-hour use. The process has entailed the stripping of each unit and the replacement of all the components, including the engine, exhaust system, electrical system, cooling system, glass, seats, tires and brakes.

In addition to the electric-conversion option, Hercules offers Tier III diesel-engine installment in the zero-time refurbishments of tugs and belt loaders for US Airways. Dienes says Hercules has the ability to work with a variety of engines for various makes of tugs and belt loaders to meet customer-specific requirements.

“I would say it’s driven by the customer,” he says. “We are actually taking the customer’s design and working with them on the upgrades on their tractors that meet their needs.”

Among the needs of many airlines today has been cost savings with an environmental benefit, which Dienes says the company offers with its refurbishment services. “We are giving you a like-new tractor, changing from diesel to electric at a price that’s very reasonable,” he says.

For the airline, it’s also a matter of reusing all available resources. “All of this metal is going to end up in the scrap yard,” says Patrick McDermott, fleet supervisor at US Airways. “They are basically recycling these units.”

You’re taking existing equipment and you’re using resources that were already utilized and you’re making a piece of equipment serviceable again,” McDermott says, “which looks good to the public and it runs and you didn’t have to go out there and waste all kinds of resources.”

The work with the airlines has accounted for about 20 percent of the Hercules’ business, which is rooted in parts and remanufacturing of engines for industrial equipment. But the company has hoped to expand its services to other airlines.

“We’re not a large company, and are not expecting to become a large company, but we are confident that we can fill a niche to help the airlines reduce their operating costs and meet emission standards using their existing fleet with a minimum of capital expense.” Dienes says “We fit into the cycle someplace. When the airline bought new equipment, it purchased tons of steel as part of the unit, why buy the steel again? It just makes economic sense to recycle it.”