Ground support equipment winter maintenance typically starts with the more obvious tasks. This includes prepping deicing equipment, conducting aircraft deicing procedures and having engine block heaters ready to go. But there's much more to prepping GSE for the cold. The following are seven GSE winter maintenance steps that should be part of your regular routine when temperatures drop.
1. Go Over Procedures With Personnel
The most important aspect of GSE winter maintenance is ensuring employees are educated and trained on the most current processes. Come late summer or early fall of each year, take a step back and review all maintenance and repairs that were conducted on GSE in the past year. Do a hard audit on what worked, what didn't and what needs revising. It's also good to review any and all safety procedures, maintenance processes and violations or accidents that occurred.
2. Inspect Aircraft Towing Equipment
Prior to using any GSE, no matter the time of year, it needs to be thoroughly inspected. Any potential damage or problems need to be identified, eliminated, controlled and documented according to your general safety procedures checklist.
3. Change The Oil
Cold temps increase the viscosity of equipment's oil and lubricants, negatively impacting their ability to lubricate gears, bearings and other vital interacting parts. This lack of lubrication will significantly accelerate a part's rate of wear, naturally leading to more downtime, repairs and overall costs.
When cold weather rears its ugly head for the first time each year, it's typically a good indicator that it's time to change the oil in all ground support equipment. Winter maintenance supplies should include a winter-weight oil designed to function in colder temperatures. This is also when you'll want to check and top off all fluid levels, such as antifreeze, oil and hydraulic fluid. Always consult the equipment manual or manufacturer for model-specific oil replacements for cold temperatures.
4. Grease & Tighten Moving Parts
The next ground support equipment winter maintenance step is an easy one, but it's irreplaceable if you want GSE to operate at its best in the colder months. Before winter hits, grease and tighten any moving parts in the equipment. This will keep GSE running properly while minimizing any unnecessary wear and tear.
5. Clean Battery Posts & Connectors
Equipment batteries function by producing electrons through the interaction of lead, lead dioxide plates and electrolyte fluid. But when temperatures drop, batteries in towbarless tugs, tractors and other GSE can often struggle to crank. This is due to the batteries not being able to produce as many electrons when temps are too cold.
To combat this common issue, it's crucial to keep the battery posts and connectors clean in the wintertime. You'll also want to clean the leads to the alternator and starter to make it easier for the batteries to crank.
6. Tighten Tire Chains
Airplane tug traction in winter is a major safety concern for every hangar that has to deal with inclement weather. One of the most important things you can do to get traction in icy or snowy conditions is to use properly tightened tire chains on GSE. When rolled on ice or packed snow, loose tire chains can cause additional vibration which can then loosen components and cause a lot of damage. Be sure tire chains are installed tightly and maintained to minimize damage and lessen repair costs.
7. Keep GSE Tires Inflated
In addition to using tire chains during the winter, it's important to keep tire pressures at an adequate level. Underinflated tires are more susceptible to wear and damage. And for every 10°F drop in temperature, a tire's pressure can decrease by 1 to 2 PSI. So, it's crucial to keep a close eye on tire inflation levels come winter and keep the PSI at the manual's recommended level.
Keep in mind that this list is in no way exhaustive and you should always consult the manual or manufacturer for exact instructions on GSE winter maintenance and operation procedures.