Ground support equipment

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Ground Support Equipment
Taxiing in/pushing back

Ground Support Equipment (GSE) is the support equipment found at an airport, usually on the ramp, the servicing area by the terminal. This equipment is used to service the aircraft between flights. As its name implies, Ground Support Equipment is there to support the operations of aircraft whilst on the ground. The functions this equipment plays generally involve ground power operations, aircraft mobility, and loading operations (for both cargo and passengers).


Catering vehicle

Many airlines subcontract ground handling to an airport or a handling agent, or even to another airline. Ground handling addresses the many service requirements of a passenger aircraft between the time it arrives at a terminal gate and the time it departs on its next flight. Speed, efficiency, and accuracy are important in ground handling services in order to minimize the turnaround time (the time during which the aircraft remains parked at the gate).

Small airlines sometimes subcontract maintenance to a much larger and reputable carrier, as it is a short-term cheaper alternative to setting up an independent maintenance base. Some airlines may enter into a Maintenance and Ground Support Agreement (MAGSA) with each other, which is used by airlines to assess costs for maintenance and support to aircraft.

Most ground services are not directly related to the actual flying of the aircraft, and instead involve other service tasks. Cabin services ensure passenger comfort and safety. They include such tasks as cleaning the passenger cabin and replenishment of on-board consumables or washable items such as soap, pillows, tissues, blankets, and magazines. Security checks are also made to make sure no threats have been left on the aircraft. Airport ground support equipment (GSE) comprise a diverse range of vehicles and equipment necessary to service aircraft during passenger and cargo loading and unloading, maintenance, and other ground-based operations. The wide range of activities associated with aircraft ground operations lead to an equally wide ranging fleet of GSE. For example, activities undertaken during a typical aircraft gate period include: cargo loading and unloading, passenger loading and unloading, potable water storage, lavatory waste tank drainage, aircraft refueling, engine and fuselage examination and maintenance, and food and beverage catering. Airlines employ specially designed GSE to support all these operations. Moreover, electrical power and conditioned air are generally required throughout gate operational periods for both passenger and crew comfort and safety, and many times these services are also provided by GSE.[1]



Chocks are used to prevent an aircraft from moving while parked at the gate or in a hangar. Chocks are placed in the front ('fore') and back ('aft') of the wheels of landing gear. They are made out of hard wood or hard rubber. Corporate safety guidelines in the USA almost always specify that chocks must be used in a pair on the same wheel and they must be placed in physical contact with the wheel. Therefore, "Chocks" refers to a pair of chocks connected by a segment of rope or cable.

Chock is also a verb, as in, "You need to chock that belt loader if you're going to leave it parked there," or, "As I was chocking the nose gear, the aircraft's engines were still spinning down." Actual time of departure are recorded for movement messages once the chocks are removed.

Non-powered equipment[edit]

Dolly for containers
Dolly for pallets

Baggage carts[edit]

Baggage carts are used for the transportation of luggage, mail, cargo and other materials between the aircraft and the terminal or sorting facility. Carts are fitted with a brake system which blocks the wheels from moving when the connecting rod is not attached to a tug. Most carts are completely enclosed except for the sides which use plastic curtains to protect items from weather.

Dollies for containers and pallets[edit]

The dollies or trolleys are specialized equipment to carry containers (Unit load device for aircraft) and pallets which are both designed to save weight and thus do not have wheels for their easy moving. Advanced dollies, such as those used in airport apron, have the following specialized facilities :

Rollers - Dollies have in-built rollers or balls on the deck for the acceptance of containers or pallets for their easier moving. Advance dollies have two sets of power driven rollers, one move the goods in the front to back direction, and the other move the goods in the left to right direction. The precise movement is needed to align the center of gravity of the goods to the center of the deck, or else the dollies may turn over when move in a bend. In addition, the containers or pallets on trolleys are obligated to be secured with built-in stops.

Revolving platform - Dollies have revolving platform to rotate containers so as to facilitate transfer onto a conveyor belt which further move the containers into an aircraft. Some platforms are power driven.

Brakes - Dollies have mechanical brakes which automatically locks the wheels when the towbar is in a parked (pointing vertically upward) orientation, and release when the towing bar is in a towing (horizontal) orientation. No explicit locking action by the operator is needed.

On all dollies, in addition to all above components, the following parts are checked for proper working condition in an annual safety examination to prevent hazard to the apron cargo workers: the wheels, its towbar driven steering mechanism and auto-engaged brakes; the towbar and its hook, pin, lock and quick release mechanism for connection to a train of other dollies; the rotation stops on the cargo rotation platform; the stops for locking the containers or pallets onto the deck or the rotation platform.

Powered equipment[edit]

They are usually airport vehicles.[2]


Hydrant truck aircraft refueler.
Tank truck aircraft refueler.

Aircraft refuelers can be either a self-contained fuel truck, or a hydrant truck or cart. Fuel trucks are self-contained, typically containing up to 10,000 US gallons of fuel and have their own pumps, filters, hoses, and other equipment. A hydrant cart or truck hooks into a central pipeline network and provides fuel to the aircraft. There is a significant advantage with hydrant systems when compared to fuel trucks, as fuel trucks must be periodically replenished.

Tugs and tractors[edit]

The tugs and tractors at an airport have several purposes and represent the essential part of ground support services. They are used to move any equipment that can not move itself. This includes bag carts, mobile air conditioning units, air starters, lavatory carts, and other equipment.

Ground power units[edit]

Ground power unit that needs towing.

A ground power unit (GPU) is a vehicle capable of supplying power to aircraft parked on the ground. Ground power units may also be built into the jetway, making it even easier to supply electrical power to aircraft. Many aircraft require 28 V of direct current and 115 V 400 Hz of alternating current. The electric energy is carried from a generator to a connection on the aircraft via 3 phase 4-wire insulated cable capable of handling 261 amps (90 kVA). These connectors are standard for all aircraft, as defined in ISO 6858.

Solid States[edit]

Main article: Solid State

A Solid State unit converts power from AC to DC along with current separation for aircraft power requirements. Solid State units can be supplied stationary, bridge-mounted or as a mobile unit.


Soviet apron bus
Main article: Airport bus

Buses at airports are used to move people from the terminal to either an aircraft or another terminal. The specific term for airport buses that drive on the apron only is apron bus. Apron buses may have a low profile like the Guangtai or Neoplan aircraft buses because people disembark directly to the apron. Some airports use buses that are raised to the level of a passenger terminal and can only be accessed from a door on the 2nd level of the terminal. These odd-looking buses are usually referred to as "people movers" or "mobile lounges". Airport buses are usually normal city buses or specialised terminal buses. The biggest producers of airport buses are in China (Weihai, Shenyang, Beijing, Jinhua), Portugal and Slovenia.[specify]

Container loader[edit]

Members of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion Four (NMCB-4) load TriCon containers loaded with construction equipment destined for field testing in Iraq, into a U.S. Air Force, Air Mobility Command, C-5 Galaxy transport aircraft.

Also known as a "cargo loader"; "K loader"; "K. loader" or "K-loader". The loader for widebodied aircraft (cargo platform) is used for loading and unloading of cargo placed in containers or on pallet. The loader has two platforms which independently raise or come down. The containers or palettes on the loader are moved with the help of built-in rollers or wheels, and are carried in aircraft across the platforms. The ground handling is different in the different areas. In Northern and South America the pallet is dominating and in Europe and Asia the container is stronger in use. So there are different container and pallet loaders.

  • 3.5 T
  • 7 T (standard version, wide-body, universal, high)
  • 14 T
  • 30 T

For military transport planes special container and pallet loaders are in use. Also for military use airborne (transportable within the transport plane) are in use. Container and pallet loaders are produced mainly in France, Germany, Estonia, Spain, Canada, in the U.S.A., Brazil, Japan and China.


Container transporter

The transporters are cargo platforms constructed so that beside loading and unloading can transport cargo. Depending on the type and load capacity the containers could be transported, and the same is valid for greater transporters and palettes.

Air Start Unit (ASU)[edit]

Volkswagen Type 2 (T3) jet air starter

An Air Start Unit or air starter is a vehicle with a built-in gas turbine engine which, during the start of an aircraft engine, gives the necessary quantity of air to start the engine. When a compressor cannot deliver the necessary quantity of air for its own work, the air is provided by an air starter. An air starter blows air in by one or two hoses attached to the aircraft.

Potable water trucks[edit]

Potable water trucks are special vehicles that provides reliability and consistency in the delivery of quality water to a stationed aircraft. The water is filtered and protected from the elements while being stored on the vehicle. A pump in the vehicle assists in moving the water from the truck to the aircraft.

Lavatory service vehicles[edit]

A man connects the waste suction hose to the lavatory service outlet on the underbelly of a C-17 Globemaster III, enabling him to suck the waste into a tank in the truck shown in the background.

Lavatory service vehicles empty and refill lavatories onboard aircraft. Waste is stored in tanks on the aircraft until these vehicles can empty them and get rid of the waste. After the tank is emptied, it is refilled with a mixture of water and a disinfecting concentrate, commonly called 'blue juice'. Instead of a self-powered vehicle, some airports have lavatory carts, which are smaller and must be pulled by tug.

Catering vehicle[edit]

Mercedes-Benz Econic aircraft caterer

Catering includes the unloading of unused food and drink from the aircraft, and the loading of fresh food and drinks for passengers and crew. The meals are typically delivered in standardized carts. Meals are prepared mostly on the ground in order to minimize the amount of preparation (apart from chilling or reheating) required in the air.

The catering vehicle consists of a rear body, lifting system, platform and an electro-hydraulic control mechanism. The vehicle can be lifted up, down and the platform can be moved to place in front of the aircraft.

In-flight food is prepared in the flight kitchen which is completely HACCP certified facility where food is made in sterile and controlled environments. The packed food is then placed in trollies and wheeled into the Catering truck at the flight kitchen, which can be located within a 5 km radius of the airport.

Thereon the vehicle drives to the airport and is parked in front of the plane. The stabilizers are deployed and the van body is lifted. The platform can be fine controlled to move left-right as well as in-out so that it is aligned with the door correctly.

The body is made of insulated panels and is capable of maintaining temperatures of 0 degrees by means of refrigeration unit.

A special Hi Lift for the A380 plane has been designed and is seen in cities with the A380 traffic.

Some of the manufacturers manufacturing Hi Lifts are Tesco Equipment LLC,[3] Emtek Services Ltd, Mallaghan Ltd, CTV DOLL, FFG, Byron GSE, JBT, TLD, Aeromobiles, TIMSAN GSE, etc.

Conveyor belt loaders[edit]

Belt loader

Conveyor belt loaders are vehicles with movable belts for unloading and loading of baggage and cargo of aircraft. A Conveyor belt loader is positioned to the door sill of an aircraft hold (baggage compartment) for the operation. Conveyor belt loaders are used for narrow body aircraft (e.g. 737) and bulk hold of wide body aircraft (e.g. 767 and 747). Baggage stored without containers is known as bulk loading.

Passenger boarding Ladders/Steps/Ramps[edit]

Passenger boarding stairs

Passenger boarding stairs, sometimes referred to as 'air-stairs', 'boarding ramps', 'stair car' or 'aircraft steps', provide a mobile means to traverse between aircraft doors and the ground. Because larger aircraft have door sills 5 to 20 feet high, stairs facilitate safe boarding and deboarding. While smaller units are generally moved by being towed or pushed, larger units are self-powered. Most models have adjustable height to accommodate various aircraft. Optional features may include canopy, heat, supplementary lighting and red carpet.

Pushback tugs and tractors[edit]

Main article: Pushback

Pushback tugs are mostly used to push an aircraft away from the gate when it is ready to leave. These tugs are very powerful and because of the large engines, are sometimes referred to as an engine with wheels. Pushback tugs can also be used to pull aircraft in various situations, such as to a hangar. Different size tugs are required for different size aircraft. Some tugs use a tow-bar as a connection between the tug and the aircraft, while other tugs lift the nose gear off the ground to make it easier to tow or push. Recently there has been a push for towbarless tractors as larger airplanes are designed.

De/anti-icing vehicles[edit]

A de/anti-icing vehicle de-icing the wing of a Croatia Airlines aircraft.

The procedure of de/anti-icing, protection from fluids freezing up on aircraft, is done from special vehicles. These vehicles have booms, like a cherry picker, to allow easy access to the entire aircraft. A hose sprays a special mixture that melts current ice on the aircraft and also prevents some ice from building up while waiting on the ground.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ All-Electric Airport Vehicles Programme Launched
  3. ^