Electrifying Aviation from the Ground
Up,… “From Airport to E-Port”
Airports are changing fast. The smart Clean Energy and Green Operations Move-
ment is growing faster than expected.
Electric vehicles and robotic support systems can be found in a growing number of industrial environ-
ments. In civilian and military airports, they are utilized both indoors and outdoors. Together with a
range of ancillary ground support equipment, such electric vehicles are set to play a larger role in
meeting environmental regulations, as well as assisting operators to become much more efficient
and to save costs.
In this day and age, electricity plays an important part in our lives. Everywhere we turn, it’s there.
Ranging from your electric shaver, the air conditioning and TV, to the computer that we spend most
of our day sitting in front of. Though it has taken a bit longer, we are now seeing practical electric
transportation. Our cars, while having contained electronic components for a long time, have been
running on gasoline and diesel. Now, we can own vehicles that are solely powered by electricity.
These advances are not just applicable to cars.
For most people, mention of electrical vehicles brings to mind electric cars of the hybrid or fully elec-
tric kind – both types can be seen on roads and are being widely reported about in today's media.
When the Tesla Model S started outselling the Mercedes S-Class, you can bet the alarm bells were
ringing all the way to Stuttgart in Germany. Other premium manufacturers like BMW and Audi, as
well as mainstream manufacturers like GM, are introducing innovations to compete with Tesla. Fea-
tures like instant torque and smooth acceleration are making the top electrical vehicles better cars to
drive than combustion engine alternatives. Other electric vehicles are far less visible to the public but
are found in other transport-related activities, particularly in airport operations. Many of the vehicles
and much of the other equipment used in airport environments are gradually being converted to
Some electric vehicles have been used in airports for a long time. Small electric tow tractors are a
familiar sight inside airport terminals where they are used for baggage collection, luggage movement
and towing carts around. The same applies to small-scale people carriers, which ferry people who
have reduced mobility to boarding gates.
Electric service vehicles are also essential in airports for transporting loads to shops, bars or other
services, for moving rows of luggage trolleys and for cleaning floors or collecting refuse.
What's happening outside the Airport Terminal? The operation of electrical vehicles makes
sense, and is required, in enclosed spaces in which there are large numbers of people, as seen in
airport terminals. Emissions from internal combustion engines burning gasoline, diesel, or gas, would
represent health hazards. However, larger electrical vehicles are also increasingly used in airports’
external areas, mainly on the tarmac, for a growing range of tasks.
The move is partly accelerated by national and international initiatives and regulations aimed at
greening airport operations. The scope is wide and includes embracing the use of LEDs for more
energy-efficient ground lighting, providing green energy supply in terminals, adopting geothermal
cooling to heat and cool parked aircraft and pursuing a strategy to phase out diesel and other internal
combustion engines for airport ground support equipment (GSE).
This last measure entails introducing a wide range of electric vehicles and ancillary equipment to
support airport operations. GSE is central to airport operations everywhere. Operations that make life
easier for passengers (allowing them to move from/to terminals and aircraft, to board/disembark and
to load/unload their luggage or cargo) rely increasingly on partially or fully electrically powered equip-
ment. This includes scooters, buggies, carts, bus shuttles, self-propelled stairs, boarding bridges and
The same trend toward electrification can be found in equipment such as the catering trucks that
supply aircraft with food and drinks and even aircraft lavatory services vehicles. Airports also operate
fleets of cars for a variety of ground operations, such as inspecting runways for debris that may be
dangerous for aircraft or for moving personnel around. Many airports adopt electrical vehicles for
One of the most desirable qualities of electric powered
vehicles is the lack of direct pollution. There is no internal
combustion and no burning of fuel of any kind to generate
energy. They got the term zero-emission for a reason.
Batteries are charged from the power grid, which means
that those vehicles are as clean as the grid. The energy
from the grid is generated from a wide variety of sources
including hydro, solar, wind, nuclear or clean CHP
(combined heat & power) utilizing natural gas or biogas.
The cleaner we can create electricity, and as greener the
grid becomes in the future, the cleaner and more environ-
mentally friendly these electrical vehicles will be.
The ultimate target is to reduce emissions and noise, im-
proving both the environmental footprint and working condi-
tions on the airport tarmac. We can pretend the glaciers
aren’t melting, but is more difficult to explain breathing
problems in children and other catastrophic effects of over-
whelming greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change is
probably the biggest challenge the human race faces in the
California has been one of the worst offenders in emissions
since cars were invented, but now the Golden State is
setting an example for the world to follow. Aggressive emis-
sions reductions mandates and alternative fuel vehicle
programs in the state have forced major automakers to get
greener or risk their business in America’s huge auto mar-
ket. In China and other countries, mounting health prob-
lems have been the motivator. In any event, the situation is
critical. Electrical vehicles can help make emissions reduc-
tions a reality.
Moving & Towing Aircraft
Arriving aircraft taxi to their allocated gates using their own
turbine engine power. However, when the time comes to
depart the gate and taxi for takeoff, aircraft have to be
pushed back from their gates. This work is done by low-
profile tractors, which typically use towbars to move the
aircraft into a position from which they can taxi under their
Until now, pushback tractors have been powered predomi-
nantly by internal combustion engines. However, a new
generation of tractors uses hybrid or electric propulsion
making this a growing trend in the GSE market.
Aircraft also need to be moved and re-positioned at general
aviation terminals, maintenance facilities, parking areas,
and hangars. Electrical towbarless tug vehicles are already
available since quite some time. Older technologies are
now replaced with highly advanced and new innovative tug
systems like semi-autonomous robotic aircraft tug vehicles,
so-called ROTV’s (Remote Operated Tug Vehicles), as well
as modern towbarless cabin tugs that can handle aircraft up
to 220,000 lbs. (100 tons) of MTOW (Maximum Takeoff
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Towbarless Electric Aircraft Tug