Playing it safe

No post image

Safety on the ramp is of primary concern for all those active on an airport apron. Whether that may be the safety of aircraft, reducing collisions and incidents between GSE or the safety of those employees operating the equipment, it is a fundamental aspect of all airside operations

Germany-based Mototok specialises in electrically powered and wireless remote-controlled equipment and, therefore, not what might be termed more ‘traditional’ GSE. When discussing various technologies employed in GSE to meet safety concerns, Thilo Wiers-Keiser, head of sales and marketing for the company, notes: “Mototok is using the eyes of the operator during the pushback. The operator can stay 3 to 15m away from the Mototok pushback machine with his wireless remote control.

“For this reason, he has a very good overview and he is far away from the engines of the aircraft. The Mototok is a relatively small, pure electric device with a limited pushback speed.”

​The company develops its own equipment, and Wiers-Keiser observes: “Mototok has a self-developed, high-tech oversteering alert system which makes it nearly impossible to oversteer during aircraft pushback.”

​Rushlift has been “quietly growing [its] GSE lease/maintenance business at London Heathrow over the last four years”, informs Tim Willett, operations director at Rushlift GSE. The company will open at London Gatwick on 1 November (as Airside International goes to press), supporting three customers.

Rushlift GSE has grown by 50% per annum over the last four years, and now provides GSE rental and maintenance services right across the UK – from Southampton on the southern coast of England to Aberdeen in Scotland. In February 2015, Rushlift was acquired by the Doosan Corporation through its subsidiary Doosan Industrial Vehicles UK Ltd.

​Rushlift is another company that seeks innovation in GSE safety. Willett notes: “Rushlift GSE is always looking at all types of new innovation in safety-related additions and we currently supply GSE that features all of the latest technologies, working closely with the GSE manufacturers assisting with the development of the future safety-related options.”

​Innovations in safety must be implemented into the equipment. Willett explains: “We always supply the latest safety systems on all GSE we lease to ground handlers and airlines, and they have taken to the new technology very quickly. All have seen improvements in ground incidents, so it shows the technology is working.

​“Some systems have needed a few refinements once in service and these changes, once implemented, have been adopted by the manufacturers for units subsequently in production.”

In regard to the safety systems it has adopted as standard, all of Rushlift’s high loaders are fitted with proximity sensors from day one, which has “future-proofed the units and increased our market share in leased GSE by offering compliant GSE at affordable prices with increased support at UK airports”, Willett says.

​There are still many things to consider when implementing this technology, however. Willett notes: “Safety systems need to be affordable, reliable and not too complex. Ground handlers are always looking for an item of GSE that works the same as before, and the new improved safety systems add another level of safeguards that work with the ramp staff to keep them and their customer airlines safe.”

​The future is bright for GSE safety systems. “GSE manufacturers are already working on autonomous docking steps and belt loaders and I’m sure high loaders and towbarless pushback tractors will soon follow; the future looks exciting,” Willett insists.

Automated systems will also become more prevalent when the associated technology becomes more readily affordable, according to Willett. Moreover, with added reliability, the handling community will buy into new systems. Health and safety, ultimately, lead the way in airport operations, Willett concludes.

​Textron also employs new technologies in regards to ramp safety. “Safety is paramount to the Textron GSE brand,” says Meredith Brazeal, marketing manager at Textron GSE. “We offer a variety of safety features on the TUG, Douglas, Premier, and Safeaero product lines.

​“Some of our top requested technologies include collision detection on de-icers, operator presence detection, movement alarms and ‘creep’ mode, which limits the speed of the vehicle to walking speed under certain conditions.

​“We also recently launched the Smart Sense™ system on the TUG 660 belt loader, which utilises ultrasonic sensors to slow and stop the vehicle as it approaches the aircraft.”

​How this is best implemented to increase safety is the focus of GSE technicians. “We believe the best way to design and implement new safety features is to meet with ramp personnel and maintenance technicians during the development cycle to fully understand their needs. The operations and maintenance teams provide insights into the vehicle’s usage that we take into account during the design of all Textron GSE products,” Brazeal says.

​There are no compromises with safety in GSE terms. “As we think about safety,” she notes, “there are some features that we consider ‘non-negotiable’, such as seat belts. Every TUG, Douglas, Premier, and Safeaero product comes standard with seat belts.

​“Beyond the standard safety features, we work closely with our customers to incorporate their feedback into safety systems and features required for their daily operations. This partnership allows us to ensure operator and aircraft safety. We also actively participate in industry-related safety meetings,” she adds.

​The primary concern of any safety system “must be the safety of the operator and any surrounding personnel,” Brazeal continues. Its secondary purpose should be protection of any aircraft being served, followed by the GSE equipment itself. This industry has substantial data available on the risks associated with various ramp operations, and “this provides pointed guidance on the technologies in which we need to invest our resources,” she points out.

​Future equipment and the safety systems it employs will have to walk the line between using the latest available technology and maintaining the simplicity of the equipment and its use, she says. Also, “One of the biggest concerns over the past several years has been the need to protect composite aircraft from strikes. Like the Smart Sense system for the TUG belt loader that answers this demand with ultrasonic sensors that control the vehicle’s approach to the aircraft, we’ll continue to develop safety systems for all Textron GSE models to increase safety and reliability for ramp personnel, aircraft, and ground support equipment,” Brazeal concludes.