The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is calling for the widespread deployment of enhanced ground support equipment (GSE) that uses anti-collision technology to improve safety and contain the cost of ground damage involving GSE. Without the transition to enhanced GSE, the yearly bill for aircraft damage occurring during ground handling operations on the apron would double over the next 15 years, to $9.7 billion, according to an analysis by IATA.
Speaking during the trade body’s recent global media days in Geneva, Nick Careen, IATA senior v-p of operations, safety, and security, described the transitioning to enhanced GSE as a “no-brainer.” According to IATA, the technology exists and pilot projects with GSE equipped with advanced sensors and auto-navigating systems have shown it improves vehicle control and increases docking accuracy. “We have proven technology that can improve safety,” he said. “And with the cost of ground damage growing across the industry, there is a clear business case supporting early adoption.”
IATA based the forecasts on an analysis of the incidence of ground damage with the projection that the number of flights will double between 2022 and 2038 (the number of incidents involving GSE increases in line with the increasing number of flights), and the change in aircraft mix following the introduction of composite materials in the structural elements of new aircraft designs. The minor dents and scrapes that airlines tolerated to a degree in traditional metal-skinned aircraft fleets—as “ramp rash” is typically visible and repairs tend to be relatively easy—are “no longer acceptable” in composite aerospace structures, the study notes. The study noted that this has prompted the need to find a new way of reducing or eliminating ground damage.
The analysis of the ground damage cost covers charges directly related to the repair—including labor and material, temporary leasing, logistical expenses, and administrative costs—as well as indirect costs such as lost revenue, crew and passenger repositioning, and compensation for delayed services. Direct costs account for 90 percent of the total ground damage expense.
Aircraft damage from Ground Support Equipment
The study found that motorized GSE striking the fuselage of the aircraft causes most aircraft ground damage that occurs once the aircraft becomes stationary. With a ground damage rate of 35.4 per 10,000 departures, the ground damage rate for widebody aircraft runs 10 times higher than that of narrowbody aircraft (3.6 per 10,000 departures), but regional jets, turboprop, and narrowbody aircraft are 30 percent more prone to severe ground damage. Wings of regional jets, turboprops, and narrowbody airliners are more susceptible to ground damage than those of widebody aircraft because of their closer proximity to the ground, where GSE operates. Wing damage tends to fall within the severe damage category.
The analysis of the total cost of aircraft ground damage by aircraft category indicates that for each widebody flight handled, operators need to set aside $580 for potential ground damage; for narrowbodies, the cost totals $74 per flight, and for regional jets and turboprops $19 per flight.
According to the IATA ground damage incident database, belt loaders, cargo loaders, passenger stairs, and passenger boarding bridges (PBB) cause 40 percent of total incidents. The organization estimates that replacing 75 percent of the global fleet of this equipment with enhanced GSE would reduce the expected ground damage cost per turn rate by 42 percent.
There is no evidence that indicates that the damage rate runs lower at airlines that perform their own ground handling compared with ground handling outsourced to third parties, Careen told AIN. He cited the need for more research to establish whether the damage rate increases at airports that allow many handlers to operate on the ramp, each with their fleet of ground service equipment.
Along with reducing the cost of ground damage, the transition to enhanced GSE will also support the industry’s commitment to achieving net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 as most new equipment is electrically powered, asserted Careen. “While the main focus of aviation’s decarbonization efforts is on how we power aircraft, what happens on the ground cannot be ignored,” he said. “The transition to enhanced GSE will contribute to our industry’s top priorities of safety and sustainability…The challenge now is to put together a roadmap so that all stakeholders are aligned on a transition plan.”