GSE: the big electrical debate

Having recently attended the Airside International event in Brussels, Hannah Bonnett discusses some of the key topics around GSE equipment.

Increased pressure and congestion in Europe means efficiency, expenditure and especially safety continue to be key areas of concern in airside operations. In the industry leader’s debate at the 2016 Airside International event held in Brussels, conversation about electrical equipment and the associated challenges and opportunities was dominant.

Despite the widespread adoption of electrical equipment that we see in the industry, especially in Europe, it seems there is still a lack of infrastructure and necessary equipment in place leaving us asking, “Where can you plug in your GSE?” Industry experts at the Airside event, held June 29 –July 1, questioned how the different stakeholders can work together to get the infrastructure to support completely electric airports. Responsibility, cost, environmental issues, GSE pooling and what complications will hinder the use and development of electrical devices are all necessary agenda items.

When we look to new airport development, we must consider what infrastructure is being built to support electrical equipment as it becomes increasingly prevalent across airport operations worldwide. Despite the high initial costs of electrical GSE equipment, the investment is offset by the significant savings that can be made in the long term, which can help justify new equipment purchasing.

As airports become more electric, and if it is mandated by government or local airport authorities, airlines will have to invest in electric equipment and make expensive retro fits. The ground support providers will need to make necessary purchases and invest in equipment, and these costs will be passed on to the airport, the airlines and the customers. Attendees also questioned what regional variations need to be taken into account as adoption of all electrical GSE equipment becomes more prolific.

Panellists questioned how airports can create well-organized and effective pooling between operators. It would be efficient and cost effective to secure a central pool of equipment that belongs to the airport and is then “rented out” to operators. They discussed the pluses and minuses of pooling; a significant positive that was cited is the huge reduction of equipment at the airport, for example with sets of stairs. Less equipment on the airport will reduce congestion and could also mean a lower number of accidents if there are parts in a centralised zone or dedicated area in the airport. The challenges may come in the implementation process.

Many stakeholders have existing contracts with maintenance companies as well as some ownership of their own equipment. In addition, airlines have greater flexibility and bargaining power with handlers than with airports. Airlines and airports will need to be realistic with pricing and be open to negotiating fair terms.

Attendees questioned who would maintain the new contracts. It was asserted that an external party should take responsibility for handling the pool, allocating space for parking equipment and driving to create a new parking structure.

There will be conflicts in opinion on how to run the contracts between handlers and operators and who has financial responsibility. Would it work on a per-minute basis or related to the turnarounds in another way? Panelists argued that airports make the best margins and have a longer term view, for ground handlers there is the opportunity to pay per use rather than committing to big fixed costs.

Mervyn Walker, chairman at Mallaghan, questioned if ground handlers would be able to pull together and cooperate. What would occur if one airline was running late because of Eurocontrol and would not pass over its pooled equipment on time because of its own delays?

The panellists agreed that clear guidance on liability and responsibility would need to be agreed upon for when any problems or complications arose with pooled GSE. If the airport was responsible for maintaining the GSE, then they would take responsibility for any maintenance failures but the manufacturer would take responsibility for operator failure or faulty equipment. If a handler is using GSE and they damage an aircraft, it must be quickly ascertained which stakeholder is at fault and have pre-agreed terms on how this would be solved.

Strategies and policies to protect the environment and support more environmentally friendly practices also need to be developed. To go electric is a lengthy process, even when stations are set up to plug in the GSE equipment because there are still a lot of constraints and potential issues around aircraft with electrical propulsion.

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