Guide to Transitioning to Electric Ground Support Equipment for Towing Aircraft
Airports and airlines alike have seen incredible benefits by going electric. By maintaining, repairing and towing aircraft through the use of electric GSE, you can save in general operating costs while significantly reducing your carbon footprint. But how can an operation justify the expense and begin the switch? It's all about easing in and making smart transitions when the time is right. Converting to electric GSE will easily pay for itself in just a few years. The following are a few basic steps for making the transition a little smoother and more efficient.
1. Get Guidance from the Experts
Before beginning to plan a transition to an all-electric GSE fleet for towing aircraft, it's important to do some research and get guidance from industry experts. Reach out for advice and instruction from the FAA's Office of Airports Community and Airport Environmental Programs divisions, state and locally based nonprofits (like the local power authority), and even a supplier that specializes in electric ground support equipment, like Eagle Tugs. Having the support and backing of reliable experts will only make the transition that much easier. It's also a smart move to look up current government initiatives, like the Voluntary Airport Low Emissions (VALE) Program, when making the switch to electric.
2. Carefully Plan & Coordinate
Now, an airport should look at its current GSE fleet and determine what can be converted or replaced with electric ground support equipment. The opportunities to convert to electric GSE can be found in nearly every aspect of a ground handling fleet, from the ground power unit to a towbarless tug. Plan out what can be replaced or retrofitted, as well as the benefits of doing so.
Careful and thorough planning is required in order to meet the needs of an electric fleet. An airport or facility may need to plan for new or additional infrastructure to support the addition of electric aircraft ground support equipment. This can include, but is not limited to, new traffic routing markers, power lines for charging stations, etc. It's important to also consider what maintenance cycles and charging methods will be used for the new electric fleet. By having this all planned out ahead of time, a facility will be better positioned to succeed during and after the fleet transition.
3. Consider Strategic Implementation
When planning out where to place charging stations and implement new electric ground support equipment, consider the facility or airport's traffic patterns, configurations, regulations, available operational space and in-place power supplies. Utilizing opportunity-charging methods and fast-charge technology will avoid unnecessary equipment downtime. The FAA's Electric Aircraft PushBack Tractor Tech Specifications require a rapid charge, which can charge nearly 80 percent of a battery in two hours or less. These rapid-charge power stations should be strategically placed to allow operators to quickly and conveniently plug a tow truck or pushback tug in when not in use. Planning ahead and placing equipment and charging stations where it makes the most sense can save major downtime (and costs) in the future.
4. Retrofit & Replace
While flat-out replacing an entire fleet with electric GSE for towing aircraft would be nice, it's not always the most feasible or realistic option. It's best to create a plan for retrofitting single internal combustion (IC) powered equipment that is still in good working order with clean electric vehicle (EV) technologies, while fully replacing other equipment, like a traditional tow tractor, as it's naturally decommissioned. This can save considerable costs and downtime, while still allowing a facility to reap both the operational and environmental benefits of using an electric aircraft tug. Through proper planning and training, it's possible to optimize overall productivity when implementing newly retrofitted equipment or a brand-new aircraft mover, like a towbarless aircraft tug.
Electric ground support equipment is here to stay. So, by starting the transition today, facilities demonstrate a commitment to the environment and their employees. And frankly, it's a smart business decision as well.