Carrying the load

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There was a world premiere for Goldhofer’s all-new Sherpa baggage and cargo tractor at inter airport Europe this year. And that’s not all that’s new at the Germany-based GSE manufacturer

A team of senior executives briefed the industry press at the show on how Goldhofer’s capabilities and focus have changed over recent times, just one example –a very important one – being manifest in the all-new Sherpa cargo and baggage tractor (so-called because of its “extreme endurance”) on display at the Goldhofer stand in Munich and available for a test drive in the demonstration area.

Lothar Holder, who joined the company in June this year, is a member of the Goldhofer board and serves as head of the company’s Airport Technology group. He explained a little bit about the ‘Made for Mission’ tag to which Goldhofer now not only designs and builds its product but also operates as a corporate entity. In essence, it is about being more than a technology developer or GSE manufacturer: it is about always supplying the optimum product to the client while simultaneously focusing on all the customer service support that is needed in a modern fast-changing business.

He also made some pertinent observations about how the aviation industry is evolving, and how that is influencing GSE suppliers such as Goldhofer. Aviation is an “extremely fast-growing market”, he noted positively, one with “significant growth potential for decades to come”, if all the industry indicators (such as those that predict continuously increasing passenger traffic) are anything to go by.

But we are seeing some shift in emphasis away from the traditional volume markets such as North America, Western Europe and Japan towards burgeoning aviation markets including Asia, the Middle East, South America, Africa and Eastern Europe.

On the downside, perhaps, there are pricing and other pressures facing GSE suppliers, and competition in the segment is strong; one way to combat these factors is for Goldhofer to offer a wide-ranging product portfolio, Holder suggested.

Global hubs

In 2015, Goldhofer launched the Phoenix towbarless tractor in Munich, and this year’s show saw the launch of Sherpa – of which much more later – but industry pressures and a need to evolve have seen the company make changes to the way it operates as well as bring to market whole new product offerings. For example, historically quite a centralised entity based wholly in Germany, “We now have a clear strategy to decentralise and develop a more global approach, one that involves establishing new Goldhofer enterprises in non-European markets, Holder promised.

“We want to see global hubs [established] with partners and owned entities around the world,” Holder said. Hence the recent formation, announced in October, of Goldhofer Inc in the US and its acquisition of a majority share in Miramar, Florida-based Flight Line, Goldhofer’s longstanding sales and services partner in the US.

According to Holder, thanks to that acquisition, “We now have ideal conditions for pursuing our policy of growth on the American continent and bringing our product and service portfolio ever closer to our American customers.”

Goldhofer is also stepping up its marketing efforts. All new products will be branded under the Goldhofer name, although the naming conventions for existing Schopf brands (which merged with Goldhofer in 2013) will be maintained, such as for the successful ‘F’ series of Schopf tow tractors. (An F396C, the company’s largest conventional aircraft tow tractor, was also on show at the Goldhofer stand at inter airport; the vehicle is now available with an improved Tier 4 exhaust class engine.)

The new Sherpa unit in particular is being promoted within a “holistic communications concept”, Holder said. Thus, for example, all the promotional tools of social media are being exploited. The big launch – the world premiere – took place in Munich in October. But this will be supported by formal launches at regional events around the world, while specific customer-facing events will also be organised to show off the vehicle to potential buyers.

The Sherpa took centre stage on the Goldhofer stand at inter airport. The D4 open top, the D6 canopy and the D8 full cabin variants were all on view, with the Sherpa vehicle range offering potential customers a wide range of drive train, engine power, cabin form and exhaust class options.

Worthy of particular attention perhaps was an example of a battery-powered Sherpa, the Sherpa E, which boasts a low-maintenance lithium battery, while a diesel engine-powered Sherpa also proved its manoeuvrability on the exhibition site’s own demonstration area.

Design and engineering

Hubert Schaller, head of design, engineering and production at Goldhofer, briefed the room both on Sherpa and on changes made to the Phoenix tug launched at inter airport two years ago. He said that in the intervening period a number of improvements had been made, including making Phoenix the first aircraft tractor to feature an ignition start/stop system similar to that found in many of today’s new cars. This translates into fuel savings, less noise, less pollution and lower costs for its users, Schaller observed.

Plus, Phoenix now comes with built-in diagnostics, the easyCONNECT remote monitoring and analysis system. Customers can download the data collected by the software, and can if necessary work with Goldhofer experts to interpret the information. Moreover, that data can be remotely accessed anywhere in the world by those authorised to do so, Schaller confirmed.

Finally, The Phoenix AST-2X of 2017 also now features an optimised cabin suspension system.

Returning to Sherpa, Schaller explained that Goldhofer’s design and development team have created a vehicle that covers all baggage and cargo handlers’ requirements. Sherpa is available with five different engine types (three diesels and two lithium battery-powered), in five different weight classes (from 4 to 8 tonnes) and in three different chassis versions (open top, canopy and with full cabin). It is “a truly modular system”, he noted, but one whose standardisation saves users money in terms of training, maintenance and repair considerations.

The electric variant is a first in that it is the only battery-powered tractor of its class to have the cab placed at the back of the vehicle, where the driver can easily keep an eye on his towed cargo. The power of the 400V lithium-ion battery means that it can be kept sufficiently small – unlike other tractor battery units – to be positioned forward of the driver, Schaller noted.

Goldhofer is “gearing up” for significant sales volumes, Holder promises. The company has two production sites – at Memmingen and Ostfildern – which have a total manufacturing space of more than 100,000 square metres, and Sherpa can be built at either or both locations. The modular nature of the base vehicle that is common to both the conventional ‘D’ and electric ‘E’ variants will also allow Goldhofer to remain flexible in its production capacity of any given model.

Thomas Kraemer, director of sales in the Airport Technology division (Goldhofer also has a Transport Technology division), added a last thought on the benefits of the standardisation built into the Sherpa concept – that drivers/operators see almost identical cabin layouts.