Earth-moving Ground Support

8 February 2010 (Last Updated February 8th, 2010 11:02)

As airport traffic increases, ground operators are facing challenges in efficiency, safety and security. David Binning takes a look at some of the technologies holding their own in airport services today.

Earth-moving Ground Support

Today's challenge for airports when it comes to ground support is two-fold: how to deal with rising passenger numbers as the security challenge becomes more important; and how to deal with high numbers when security technology reaches maturity.

In response, ground support technology companies are testing the boundaries of innovation with a range of solutions designed to help operators maintain efficiency, safety and security in the face of rapid change.

At the coalface of operations, forklift and conveyor technology is making greater use of microchip and communications technologies to deliver products that are more agile, safer and more energy efficient.

Solutions to track and monitor vehicles are becoming especially important as operators struggle to deal with increased traffic – people and vehicles – and the amount of information being generated as part of airport operations is also increasing.

"Ground support technology companies are testing the boundaries of innovation."

Data on everything from cargo to weather, flight schedules and maps, runway conditions and even CCTV footage is being incorporated in to airport operations, fuelling demand for clever ways to better organise and extract value from it all.

In an effort to recognise just how much is changing in the support services space at airports, Airport Technology has taken a look at some of the innovative solutions making their way to tarmacs around the world.

Vehicle management

A big challenge for ground support operators is how to manage the location of various on-site vehicles with all of the other airport activities constantly being played out.

Taiwan’s Air Navigation Weather Services is one of several operators to have selected Comsoft mobile Mode S transmitter (Midget), to help it do just this, regardless of obstacles such as poor visibility or peak traffic levels.

The midget is a mobile tracking device based on 1090 MHz Mode S extended DF18 squitter signals. The device can be permanently or magnetically mounted to all kinds of vehicles in an airport environment and broadcasts the vehicle position and ID periodically, depending on the movement of the vehicle. Mode S address and vehicle ID are easy to configure.

Airports equipped with ADS-B systems, multilateration or Quadrant Control and Monitoring System can easily integrate all kinds of ground vehicles into their surface surveillance picture, if the vehicles are equipped with Comsoft Midget.

Foreign object damage

Detection of foreign objects on runways, despite being a critical component of airport safety, has typically been a far from exact science. This is partly because even the smallest piece of debris can pose problems for aircraft taking off and landing at high speed.

"One of the biggest challenges for operators is how to manage the location of various on-site vehicles."

A recent report by the FAA says that, "Foreign object damage (FOD) has the potential to damage aircraft during critical phases of flight, which can lead to catastrophic loss of life and airframe, and increased maintenance and operating costs. FOD hazards can be reduced, however, by the use of FOD detection equipment."

The TARSIER Automatic FOD Detection system from QinetiQ is one of the first automatic systems of its kind.

Already deployed at Vancouver International Airport, Heathrow and at airports in Dubai and Doha, TARSIER is designed to locate potentially hazardous debris on airport runways by providing constant monitoring.

Tarsier's networked high-frequency, high-resolution radars sweep the runway around the clock. On detection, the integrated high specification camera zooms in to identify the FOD, enabling appropriate action to be taken. FOD images can be produced in all light levels, giving operators greater confidence and greater certainty.

Information challenge

How information is managed is becoming ever more important for airport operators. Data on everything from cargo to weather, flight schedules and maps, runway conditions, air traffic load data, runway conditions, maps, NOTAM information and even CCTV footage is all on the rise, fueling demand for clever ways to better organise and extract value from it all.

Designed to help operators meet the information challenge the new Support Information System (nSIS) based on Terma’s successful ATC*ISS provides a single access point for information, improving air traffic safety, working conditions and situational awareness for air traffic controllers.

Fully installed and running at the Heathrow, Stansted and Gatwick towers, Terma’s ATC*ISS is an advanced information integrator and the system can drastically reduce the number of displays in any control tower, centre and approach. The solution is fully scalable – from tower solutions (minimising the number of displays) to large ATC centre installations, providing information to hundreds of concurrent users.

Passenger guidance

Of all the types of cargo that pass through the world’s airports none is more important than human traffic. However, when it comes to small aircraft the issue of passenger safety at the point of boarding and disembarkation has not always received the attention it deserves, especially with propeller-powered planes.

"Terma’s successful ATC*ISS provides a single access point for information."

Sensing this oversight Tensator has come to market with a new Airport Passenger Guidance (APG) system is designed to safely guide passengers on and off aircraft. Aimed at short-haul aircraft, the APG provides a health and safety solution that reduces waiting times and prevents passengers taking shortcuts under the dangerous engine, propeller and wing areas in a bid to get to their desired seats before fellow travellers.

It features a durable, high-visibility finish and steel frame for outdoor use, and boasts Tensabarrier® webbing, which can be tailored and extended up to 23m in two directions - and because the webbing is anti-static, it enables the system to be used near the fuelling zone of the plane.

When the APG unit is in use, the webbing is simply attached onto the stairs of the plane using the plastic connector at the end of each webbing length to form a taut, high-visibility guidance barrier.

Energy efficient

Some of the hardest working equipment in the aviation industry are those products designed for baggage handling. And like just about every other aspect of the industry, technology in this area is getting smarter all the time.

"Detection of foreign objects on runways, despite being a critical component of airport safety, has been a far-from-exact science."

The BHV baggage handler with Bal-Trol from Sweden’s Lifts All is, the company says, the most energy efficient lifter on the market. Designed to deliver ground control operators speed, silence and ergonomics, it is able to lift up to 100kg. A robust vacuum cup with a foldable hook makes it possible to lift baggage of all shapes and sizes, while the load can be handled and rotated freely 360°. Both standing and laying bags can be lifted.

The product comes with important in-built safety features including a rubber plate to relieve stress on arm and wrist. To suit both left and right-handed operators with either big or small hands, the buttons are adjusted in a few seconds. The angle of the handle is also easily adjusted to four different positions for maximum comfort.

The BHV is also one of the quietest baggage handlers on the market, whispering at a mere 54dB(A).

Thanks to the latest vacuum technology the energy costs are minimised. Vacuum is only used during the lift of a bag. The rest of the time the unit is totally silent and no energy is used.

The minimum of air consumption makes the BHV baggage handler a real energy saver, using less than 10% of the energy compared to other vacuum lifters. Large airports, which use many BHV baggage handlers, are saving around €100,000 per annum in energy costs.

Stand-alone mover

Airport operations cannot hope to run smoothly, especially during peak times, without the support of strong, reliable and agile ground support transport. Claiming to have taken wheeled airport transport to a new level of ICM Airport Technics’ X-Mover is the first stand-alone free moveable multi-functional transport vehicle, combining the benefits of transfer vehicle (TV) and elevated transfer vehicle (ETV).

Developed to supplement conventional conveyor systems, the X-Mover is a self-contained cargo mover providing all features required for unit load (ULD) handling as a truck dock, as a TV and ETV as well as a slave pallet mover and dolly dock.

The X-Mover also comes with a scale and tag printer, all integrated with the onboard IT system enabling straight-forward acceptance of the ULDs at any of point of the terminal.

The X-Mover also boasts great driving flexibility, with programmable 90° turns and turning around its own centre (turn table function) just some of its cool moves. Green friendly, the X-Mover is powered by a low emissions hybrid diesel electric engine, with batteries recharging during use.