Summer 2019

Yutong all-electric apron bus takes centre stage

Last month (April), Spain’s first fully electric apron bus made its debut public appearance at southern Spain’s Seville Airport. The Yutong Electric Apron Bus – for which Madrid-headquartered GSE rental, leasing and maintenance service provider Air-Rail is the exclusive dealer in continental Europe – was shown off on the ramp, and put through its paces

As well as Air Rail and Zhengzhou Yutong Bus Co, also at the event were handler Aviapartner, which has wet-leased the vehicle, and senior managers of Seville Airport itself (which is operated by Aena, the state-owned company that manages general interest airports and heliports in Spain).

This particular bus has been leased by Aviapartner in what Air-Rail and Yutong hope will be the prelude to further deals for the model: the ZK6140BEVBD. It represents the first fully electric apron bus to go into operation in Spain: in fact, the intention was for the vehicle to take on board its first passengers operationally on the apron that very afternoon.

The bus, an all-electric variant of a Yutong diesel-powered bus, is entirely powered by a lithium-iron battery, both in its driving power and, importantly given the locally prevailing climate, its air-conditioning system (plus, likely to be less frequently used in Seville, its on-board heating system).

This battery is said by the manufacturer to offer a maximum range of 220km on a single charge (achieved on a test range), while Air-Rail also says that it can operate for at least 12 hours even with the ceiling-mounted air-conditioning (AC) on throughout that period.

Of course, the battery life of one cycle depends on many factors (whether the AC is in use or not, distances driven during the day, the size of the airport at which it operates and the number of operations it handles, for instance); therefore, the above figures are an approximate calculation, and might well vary in different scenarios.

The battery can be charged quickly and efficiently at Seville Airport’s newly installed charging point (in fact three buses could be charged from this point simultaneously if more buses of the type are acquired at the gateway). A standard charge takes one and a half hours; a quick charge for 50km of driving, just six minutes.

The bus itself is 13.8m long, 3m wide and 3.2m high. It has a listed maximum speed of 50km/h. As well as minimising harmful emissions, it is also quiet and cheap to run in terms of diesel fuel cost savings. Preventive maintenance costs are also predicted to be low compared to equivalent diesel vehicles.


Prior to an opportunity for the press and other attendees to board the bus and to go for a short ride around the airport apron, all those who were present for the unveiling were introduced to the project’s partners.

A panel comprising Jesús Caballero (director of Seville Airport), Steve Azevedo (Aviapartner’s director general for Spain), Clive Sauvé-Hopkins (Aviapartner group CEO), José Manuel García Prieto (partner and managing director of Air-Rail) and Luis Yagüe (CEO of Air-Rail) welcomed the group.

After a few words of introduction from Caballero, García thanked Aena and Seville Airport’s director for being so open to the idea of all-electric bus operations there, and also added his gratitude to Aviapartner for their partnership in the project. He said that it had been “a challenge” but that he hoped to see the fully electric bus rolled out at other Spanish airports and further afield around Europe.

He also thanked Yutong for its trust in Air-Rail as well as the Chinese company’s development of such a high-quality bus for the European market. García said that the occasion marked an important moment for Seville Airport, pointing out that there are about 400 apron buses in operation across Spanish airports but that this is the first to be powered solely by electricity. García added that he hoped it would be the first of many.

Plus, he noted that Aviapartner had taken the “impressive” decision to invest in this new, environmentally friendly technology as part of its wider ‘Go Green’ programme that is seeing the handler minimise its emissions and vehicle noise across the 37 stations that comprises its six-nation European network.

Describing Air-Rail as heavily engaged with Aviapartner in the furtherance of the Go Green programme, García added that he believes electric GSE of all sorts are likely to be a much more common sight at European air gateways in the months and years to come.

Sauvé-Hopkins then addressed the audience on behalf of Aviapartner. He praised Aena for its “very progressive approach” to the industry’s environmental responsibilities, adding that he considers the airport operator to be “best in class” in this regard.

Sauvé-Hopkins also said that he believed Caballero had personally taken an important lead on this issue, adding: “We are incredibly proud to be supporting Aena in this initiative [and] delighted that Air-Rail is expanding its partnership with Aviapartner across its network”.

He concluded: “Yutong has developed a great product for Seville and its difficult operating environment” (the city has actually seen temperatures of 50 degrees in summer, although that of course is a rarity).

Sauvé-Hopkins had further words to say for Airside during the demonstration drive on the ramp. While Aviapartner has decided to wet-lease (renting the vehicle in addition to signing up to Air-Rail’s maintenance and repair commitment) just the one vehicle initially, that nevertheless represents a significant investment on the hander’s part, he said. Moreover, it might well only be the first such all-electric vehicle to be taken up at Aviapartner’s Seville station, elsewhere in Spain or in any of the other five countries at which it ground handles across Europe.

One of the big challenges for operating electric buses in hot climates has been to sustain sufficient power for the vehicle’s air-conditioning as well as drive power, and Yutong has designed a battery-powered vehicle able to do just that in the heat of southern Spain, he pointed out.

Sauvé-Hopkins confirmed that Aviapartner is working with other airport authorities to see if they would provide the same sort of support that Caballero and his Aena team have done at Seville to support the operation of a fully electric apron bus, and in particular to provide the necessary charging infrastructure.

José Manuel García Arrechea, son of José Manuel García Prieto, revealed that Air-Rail is talking to other ground handlers about the possibilities offered by the Yutong bus, while paying tribute to Aviapartner for taking the lead in this area in Spain, describing the company as a good partner with a great commitment to environmental concerns.

He is of the opinion that any further orders for the all-electric bus (whether as a purchase or on lease) could be quickly fulfilled, with just a four-month delivery timeline from Yutong for the vehicle (including shipping).

Air-Rail has plenty of experience of working with Yutong, having delivered 16 diesel variants of the manufacturer’s apron bus already in the Spanish market – to Irish low-cost carrier (LCC) Ryanair and an additional unit to Aviapartner. (For more on Air-Rail’s part in this project and its wider plans, see the article that follows this one.)

Lower TCO

Aviapartner may be a natural choice to operate an all-electric apron bus. Its Go Green campaign has been rolled out throughout its network, with the handler’s environmental focus being embedded in all introductory training for new staff.

Working with both its customers and suppliers for a healthier environment, a core principle of Go Green is to move toward more electric GSE.

According to Sauvé-Hopkins, 34% of the handler’s network-wide motorised GSE fleet is now electric (the figure is about 30% in Spain), including equipment ranging from narrowbody pushbacks to baggage tractors. Moreover, it is also introducing electric-powered vehicles to its asset base at locations such as Brussels.

Battery-powered buses may be expensive in terms of their initial cost, but they have a good total cost of ownership (TCO) across their lifetime, he suggests.

Aviapartner has been working with Air-Rail on the Yutong bus project at Seville for a year now, confirms Azevedo. It also worked with the airport and with Aena on the bus’ certification process (which took about a month, and certifies the bus for operation across Aena’s many Spanish airports).