The important role of ground support equipment in the race toward airport sustainability

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For airports to reach their sustainability goals – like the impressive aim of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 – they must look for areas of improvement throughout their entire business. Transitioning from diesel to electric ground support equipment (e-GSE), which supports aircraft operations while they are on the ground, is an important step toward carbon-neutrality because it reduces on-site CO2 emissions. For example, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport’s adoption of e-GSE saves roughly 10,000 metric tons of GHGs and saved roughly $2.8 million in fuel expenditures per year.

It also provides safety improvements and reduces operational costs. Making the transition from diesel-powered GSE to e-GSE improves the respiratory health of airside workers and reduces noise pollution to provide them a safer and quieter work environment. It reduces energy costs, as airlines like JetBlue have found. That’s because of ground fuel savings, higher equipment efficiency, and decreased maintenance costs.

Airports are improving sustainability with electric ground support equipment (e-GSE) that reduces on-site CO2 emissions, improves safety, and reduces costs

Amsterdam Schiphol reduces emissions by 90% using e-GPU

Many of the world’s largest airports, including Amsterdam Schiphol, London Heathrow, and Hong Kong International Airport, are already reducing their carbon footprint using electric ground support equipment. GSE includes a broad range of equipment, like the luggage tugs that move baggage, apron buses that transport passengers to the plane, passenger stairs, and ground power units.

Every chance to reduce emissions counts, and the impact of transitioning from diesel-powered GSE to e-GSE can be substantial. For example, Amsterdam Schiphol has invested in e-ground power units (e-GPU) to provide energy to on-the-ground aircraft, which reduce CO2 emissions by 90%.

Changi Airport cuts 627 tons of CO2 emissions with e-GSE

Singapore Changi Airport now has 80 electric baggage tractors operating on the airside, which has already saved 627 tons of CO2 emissions. The airport has installed 26 common-use charging points to encourage the adoption of electric baggage tractors. This common-use approach eliminates ground handlers’ need for their own dedicated e-baggage electric chargers, which reduces costs and minimizes the space needed for the charging infrastructure. Changi already has a fully electric fleet in one terminal and aims to convert the majority of diesel-powered GSE to electric powered by 2030.

While many airport sustainability initiatives take place at an individual airport level, the global airport ground services company Swissport is expanding e-GSE throughout its operations in over 300 airports. Between 2016 and 2018, Swissport more than doubled its e-GSE vehicles, among them electrical cargo lifters and battery-powered aircraft pushback tractors, and aims to increase the proportion of e-GSE in their fleet to at least 50% by 2025.

Digital solutions support e-GSE sustainability

Airports are composed of many different systems that all must work together seamlessly for a safe, efficient airport operations. The only way to meet these goals is through a coordinated effort that incorporates technology, equipment, and takes into account stakeholders’ needs.

For example, e-GSE adoption requires a specialized EV charging infrastructure that must be installed airside for GSE to meet specific airport needs. This requires integrating GSE operational knowledge starting from the design stage of the e-GSE project. Charging points must be strategically placed for usability and convenience based on knowledge of the specific airport GSE operations, including staff habits. Some airports, such as Amsterdam Schiphol, have hundreds of airside charging stations, so it is crucial to have a coordinated management system, including EV infrastructure and electrical distribution management technology, to most efficiently cut emissions while increase cost savings.

EV infrastructure and distribution management technology ensures reliable operations

Armed with the right tools, airport facility and energy management can maximize airport and facility uptime. A reliable, efficient solution that melds EV infrastructure and technology must be in place to support sustainability and ensure passengers have an undisrupted, on-time travel experience. This requires technology like power distribution and electrical distribution management tools to support e-GSE charging and energy consumption of EV charging units to cut emissions and costs. An effective e-GSE fleet also needs features like real-time monitoring and control on power system status and identification of abnormal temperature, insulation faults, or power disturbances.

Microgrids support e-GSE by increasing airports’ access to green, reliable power

Gaining access to reliable, green energy is also an important step in ramping up e-GSE adoption. E-GSE use reduces carbon emissions but to make a greater impact, their electricity source must come from clean energy, like microgrids. Microgrids can play an important role by providing essential backup power to prevent costly, disruptive power outages and give airports more control over their energy use. This sustainable power can also be used to energize equipment like e-GSEs. For example, New York City’s JFK Airport is improving sustainability and energy reliability using state-of-the-art microgrids that will help the airport reach its goal of 100 percent renewable energy usage.

You want to know more about how airports can meet their carbon-neutral goals and improve their energy management? Please click here.

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