Although this is not a specified target of the initiatives underway, autodocking will be made possible, opening up ground operations to greater efficiency.
According to Steve Savage, IATA’s Senior Analyst—Ground Operations, Airport, Passenger, Cargo and Security (APCS), the real driver behind improvements in the GSE arena is the need to engineer out the risk of ground damage to aircraft caused by GSE.
“From a technical perspective we can achieve this through tighter and better technical requirements and specifications,” he says. “We can have a positive effect on aircraft ground damage caused by GSE.”
Standardized alignment markings on the aircraft fuselage is the beginning of the process. Most airlines still have their own version of alignment markings, both in terms of style and location. It means manually-driven GSE must be able to adapt to a variety of indicators and fittings, a loose approach that can lead to damage.
With standardized alignment markings, ground staff know exactly what to expect. The process is not only more straightforward, but also facilitates other advantages. Standard markings can be made machine readable, for example, even under adverse environmental conditions. In turn, that allows GSE to be fitted with not only proximity sensors and warning systems, but with equipment able to read the alignment markings for precise manoeuvring.
“We need everyone on board,” says Savage. “Airlines need to put the markings on their aircraft, GSE manufacturers need to be make equipment that can read the markings and airports need to get their boarding bridges fitted so that they can use the markings too."
"There will be a period of transition while this concept is introduced as we are only at the start of the process.”
Chapter 9 of IATA’s Aircraft Handling Manual already includes requirements for proximity sensing and warning systems on ground support equipment that dock at aircraft. This is not full AV, but it is a step towards that.
Indeed, many prototypes of autodocking GSE are already on trial around the world. Mallaghan have autodocking stairs and other GSE manufacturers are working on auto-docking cargo-loaders, cabin servicing vehicles, crew and passenger transport, and much more.