Beltloaders: Safety tech

Why installing ASD solutions is imperative to reducing ramp incidents.

Beltloaders and other ground support vehicles account for 40% of total incidents on the ramp, according to latest IATA research which is why it’s vital to install anti-collision tech like Aircraft Safety Docking (ASD) solutions.

Luckily, many manufacturers are already ahead of the game and have started implementing this type of software into their equipment, like Textron which has installed Smart Sense anti-collision tech on its beltloader product line.

“Aircraft damage remains the biggest challenge and can result in expensive repairs, and potential flight delays. Anticollision technology is an effective way to mitigate damage, however, it is only a recommendation within IATA AHM913 and not a regulatory requirement, so not everyone operates the technology on their beltloaders,” said Matt Chaffin, VP & GM Textron GSE.

“Although we do not have specific metrics, because our customers record injuries and accidents within their operations, we do know that installing Smart Sense anti-collision technology on beltloaders would provide significant benefit in reducing the risk of accidents.

“Utilising ultrasonic sensors, Smart Sense technology communicates the proximity of the beltloader to the aircraft via a series of coloured lights and has been developed with a controller that sends signals to the transmission, modifying the speed from drive mode to creep mode, to stop, based on the distance to the aircraft. Smart Sense technology provides an additional level of operator safety by stopping the beltloader if the operator leaves the seat while the vehicle is in motion, or a system fault is detected.”

TLD sees the popularity of ASD systems among airlines already gaining traction.
“The TLD ASD system is now an industry standard as it is easy to use and prevents aircraft damage by automatically reducing the speed close to aircraft and making sure collisions are reported,” said Rémi Langlois, Group Chief Procurement Officer, TLD Group.

Reducing physical injuries
Power Stow’s Rollertrack Conveyor has helped reduce body injuries by more than 50% according to its customer feedback as well as make loading and unloading 25-30% faster than conventional beltloaders.

It eliminates repetitive lifting, and turning and tossing of bags. A single operator can easily extend or retract the equipment as necessary and bring the end as close as possible to the baggage/cargo in the hold. The baggage handler inside the hold does not need to lift baggage/cargo from the floor. Under these conditions, baggage handlers are exposed to much less physical strain than in comparable systems, and loading and unloading operations are much easier.

With the Rollertrack system it can reduce the number of “touches” to the baggage. Kneeling and throwing bags is one of the most dangerous jobs on the ramp for back and shoulder injuries. By eliminating that function, Power Stow has greatly helped customers reduce its on-the-job injuries.

A number of safety features are embedded in the Rollertrack Conveyor system to optimise operator safety, protect against pinch points and prevent aircraft damage.

All of these have been developed based on input from users and other professionals in the ground handling industry. Its extendable beltloader enables airport ground handlers to load and unload bulk baggage and cargo faster and more efficiently, while also reducing the physical strain on the ground handling staff.

The Transfer Belt was developed to reduce manual baggage handling and limit the strenuous work of baggage handlers, while increasing productivity. The machine helps unload any type of baggage from ULDs or baggage carts onto the conveyor belt in the baggage sorting area. The baggage handler’s lifting and twisting movements are significantly reduced.

The operator uses one-third of the lifting force by pulling the bags onto the Transfer Belt instead of lifting and twisting heavy weights. So, this semi-automatic unloading method hugely reduces the risk of back and shoulder injuries, resulting in better working conditions, less sick leave and a longer working life.

Electric GSE is becoming more in demand as the industry moves towards a greener future - Ben Reeves, Vice President Power Stow Americas

Innovation and safety remain a constant focus for customers and Textron actively works to incorporate changes and seek opportunities to strengthen the performance of its products.

“For example, beltloader handrails and designing solutions that are compatible with a wide range of aircraft. Operator guards, seat belts and bumpers are a priority with customers. Also, collaborating and adapting our products with companies that offer equipment that enhances safety like Power Stow, assists with mitigating safety concerns and boosting productivity,” said Chaffin. “Fleet Management Systems have also grown in popularity, and we anticipate this trend will continue. The benefits of this technology include equipment tracking, performance indicators and usage.”

Power Stow is still working through a backlog of orders, the majority of which are for electric equipment. Ben Reeves, Vice President Power Stow Americas, said: “Electric GSE is becoming more in demand as the industry moves towards a greener/CO2 neutral future. However, the airport infrastructure has a major role in this as it requires that there is adequate charging infrastructure to support the implementation of electric equipment into ground handling operations.”

TLD is overcoming any infrastructural challenges with its hybrid beltloader.

Langlois said: “The electrification of GSE is the future as most airlines and handlers recognise it. However, the lack of charging infrastructure is a big issue and many orders are placed with internal combustion engines because of it. To tackle this issue, TLD has launched an hybrid beltloader (iHS – intelligent Hybrid System) to provide a real electric driveline unit that can charge and operate on diesel until infrastructure becomes available. This solution is reducing the unit total cost of ownership by basically eliminating all the idle time of the engine.”

All three manufacturers expect 2023 to be a strong year for the beltloader market, similar to 2022 despite ongoing supply chain and labour challenges.

“We experience a continuously growing interest and high demand for our solutions year after year. More and more airlines, airports and ground handling companies are investing in semi-automated equipment, because productivity, reliability and ergonomics are important criteria when choosing new equipment,” said Reeves.

“Furthermore, as a consequence of the coronavirus many of our clients are dealing with staff shortage issues and difficulty finding ground handling personnel. Our semi-automated equipment enables handlers to optimise their teams while reducing operational costs and improving working conditions for ramp agents.”

Langlois said: “In 2022, the beltloader market was definitely in acceleration and in catch-up mode in almost all regions of the world after two years of pandemic restrictions, with the exception of China where travel restrictions extended for the whole year. Last year, the supply chain impacted our ability to produce beltloaders at the pace the market demands, which is one of the main industrial goals at TLD today to severely increase our beltloader production.”

TLD’s beltloader product line was in constant evolution to better address the market demand. Its Regional Belt Loader (RBL), launched a few years ago, is attracting the regional jets market. “We are pushing ASD further to enhance safety with an automatic stop at the docking, called the no-touch option and the hybrid line as mentioned before,” added Langlois.

“Textron GSE witnessed strong sales in 2022 across its TUG 660 family of beltloaders as the industry continued to regain momentum in both passenger and cargo activity. A new lithium model and enhancements to their TUG 660 line over the last 18 months, including CE certification have contributed to increased sales,” said Chaffin.

“Over the last 18 months we have seen significant interest for our lithium TUG 660 beltloader and a shift in the order mix from internal combustion to lithium. Many upcoming deliveries are focused within North America and include major airlines, ground handlers and cargo companies, however, we are seeing increased demand internationally for sustainable equipment including beltloaders.”

He added: “Textron continues to put the needs of the customer first and is focused on developing new innovations that balance innovation, functionality, and strengthens safety on the ramp.”

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