Readers' Forum

Sept. 17, 2007
The GSW Readers’ Forum goes to the front lines of the industry for feedback on different topics relevant to ground support equipment and ground handling.

Q: Will There be pressure to upgrade older ground support equipment to comply with the new environmental regulations being enacted by regional, state and federal government?

Rick Waugh
Manager, Ground Support-Western Region, Southwest Airlines

A large percentage of our equipment will not comply with these new regulations. The position carriers and ground handlers find themselves in can become very expensive. At Southwest we have GSE mechanics who think outside the box on these types of issues. They have developed a way to help us meet these environmental regulations and keep our capital expenditures from going through the roof. We’ve reintroduced a number of our older fossil-burning belt loaders and push backs into electric powered units and their in-service rates are great. This experience gave us an opportunity to partner with one of our venders on building a push back with the same technology we were using in our re-powered units. We bought several of those units and they share the same parts as our re-powered units and also the same great in-service rate. This is one way of making older GSE compliant with new environmental regulations. It also helps keep our capital costs down.

Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge
Managing Director, American Airlines – St. Louis’ Hub

As each state works toward cleaner environmental living conditions, there will be ongoing pressure to upgrade outdated ground equipment with more efficient emissions systems. That said, this does not necessarily mean that new equipment must be purchased. As the need for new ground equipment arises within any company, many airlines and FBOs have chosen to buy electric tugs and belt loaders as replacements for the older gas units, which clearly meet higher clean-air standards. Although the electric units cost substantially more, the good news is that with the rising cost of fuel, the ROI due to fuel savings can be paid back in 18 to 24 months. Another means of moving toward cleaner emissions are fuel injection kits that can be installed on numerous pieces of older ground equipment. Although the systems are primarily designed to enhance the performance of the unit and less wear and tear on the engine, there are side benefits as well. With the installation of these fuel injection systems, the engines are burning fuel more efficiently and thus creating a cleaner emissions by-product. In my opinion, airlines and FBOs understand the need to comply with state and federal regulations on clean air acts, but this process cannot take place overnight. As each state experiences progress with electric units, upgraded systems and awareness programs, I think they are generally satisfied that our industry is moving in the right direction. However, due to industry history, I don’t think the pressure or the demand will lesson as we move forward. It is no secret our industry is constrained with meeting operating costs that do not exceed revenue generations, so there cannot be an expectation that all older ground equipment must be removed in short order. That said, our industry does understand the value of the clear air acts and is moving in the right direction.

Jodi Lonergan
Manager-Corporate GSE, Continental Airlines

The biggest challenge with the new regs for California is the compliance deadline of January 1, 2009. In the world of funding request, production and delivery and subsequent reporting, that is not a lot of time, especially when options are very limited. Each airline, cargo carrier and handler will have individual strategies for compliance, but it will all bottle neck with the manufacturers.

Dewey Kulzer
Program Director, Elite Line Services, Inc.

On the environmental subject — none of it is new. The environmental drive has been going on for the past 20 years and all the carriers have know it and done their best to both respond and delay it (via ATA). This is just a recovery from the 9/11 delay. Basically, 9/11 bought the airlines a six to seven-year reprieve from the strong drive which was progressing under Clinton.

I’m sure the next election will most likely bring a Democrat president who will sweep out the eight years of a Texas oil president. This will cause a dramatic upswing in the drive for clean air, clean water, etc. I expect to see the push for electric equipment at least triple in the next three years. It seems the airlines have finally recovered financially and the environmental drive is going to soak up much of that money.

Tim Wix
General Manager-GSE, Delta Air Lines

The new environmental mandates that are being implemented in California and discussed in other states are going to make the coming years very difficult and costly for the airlines. Meeting the emission targets will be hard and costly but documenting and the reporting of emissions which is part of the new California laws, is a whole other issue. It will require additional resources to track and administer these programs which will be hard to justify. A significant amount of time will be spent by every GSE manager trying to figure out a strategy on how to meet the targets at the lowest cost to their airline. The next two to four years will be very challenging for the GSE managers as it will take considerable investment in funding and time to meet the new regulations.