The future is electric for airport buses

People are eager to fly again now that travel restrictions are being lifted. For that reason, new buses are entering the fleet and are increasingly powered by electricity.

With more than 200 units in operation, the Abe13 and 14s from Yutong are proving popular, serving airports in Europe, North Africa and several Chinese airports such as Beijing and Shanghai.

Pelican is the importer of Yutong products to the UK, and Head of Yutong Sales – Pelican Bus and Coaches, Ian Downie said that zero-emission transport on the ground is of paramount importance to achieve Net Zero targets, and electrifying ground vehicles is an important step.

He said: “Zero emission electric vehicles is the most viable alternative to diesel. Electrical energy and infrastructure is already in existence. The well to wheel greenhouse gases of a Yutong zero emission vehicle is 77% better than that of a Euro 6 diesel.”

For owners of electric cars, range anxiety remains a concern despite significant improvements in recent years. Downie said this is not an issue for the ABe13.

He said: “The vehicle is extremely efficient in terms of energy consumption, and the 281kWh batteries are designed for a full days operation. The use of safe, fast DC charging means that the vehicle could be fully charged in less than 2.5 hours.”

Designed specifically for airport operations, the Abe13 is not only better for the environment, they are also comfortable for occupants. It is fully air conditioned, the low floor design has no step for the passengers, and entry and exit are optimised through three doors on either side of the vehicle.

Downie said: “The driver has an air suspended seat, with all controls ergonomically designed around them to minimise any strain. The electric motor provides instantaneous acceleration, and the vehicle has no vibration or noise to disturb the driver or their passengers.”

The future is electric, said Downie, who commented: “Zero emission electric vehicles will become the norm in the UK. Yutong have over 131,000 zero emission vehicles in service and have over 29.2 billion kms of operational service.”

Planning for the future
When global aviation came to a standstill at the start of the pandemic, demand for related services and products stopped but now passenger numbers are exceeding pre-pandemic levels at some airports. For the airports, programmes postponed due to the pandemic are back on track.

Laila Engler, Sales Manager & Head of Marketing at COBUS said: “As there were airport expansions planned before 2020, those will restart after the recovery and will require additional airport buses. With the cost savings programmes during the pandemic, replacement programmes were postponed and are kicking in now.”

Sustainability and environmental concerns have been on peoples’ minds for a long time but the urgency to make improvements and increase electrification has really taken off in the last few years. COBUS released its first electric bus in 2016 but Engler expected them to take over from diesels much quicker. It took the pandemic before change was embraced.

She said: “Since 2019 we have offered the conversion from diesel to electric COBUS buses and we are happy to offer this sustainable and cost-efficient solution in addition to our current COBUS owners. This will increase the lifetime of a COBUS for another fifteen years and make our product unbeatably sustainable.”

The electric e.COBUS offers all the advantages of the original bus such as a low-floor, extra wide doors and a separate driver’s and passenger compartment, but it comes with the added benefit of little noise due to being electric powered.

With lithium titanate oxide batteries, it can be charged quickly, in less than 60 minutes depending on the charger and infrastructure. Engler said: “Most airports flight schedules have peak times. During their lows the batteries can be opportunity charged at any charge level until any charge level. This provides more flexibility and in total a greater autonomy.”

They do not need any battery temperature management, which would require maintenance. They also have a much greater lifespan, with COBUS offering an 8-year warranty. COBUS Industries will offer lithium iron phosphate batteries as an alternative from next year.

So what is the future for COBUS’ range? “We are very happy to lift this secret during the GSE Expo Europe in Paris between 13-15 September 2022,” said Engler.

If that doesn’t tempt you to go to the GSE Expo, nothing will.

Major investments

Mallaghan delivered its first buses in October 2019 to Ryanair, and since then, they have been delivered to more than 12 airports in Europe. Demand for new buses was hit by the pandemic, said Tadej Podgrajsek from Mallaghan airport bus division, but Mallaghan anticipates rising demand as air travel returns to normal.

He said: “Such demand is now being driven by both the industry’s aims to reduce CO2 emissions at airports and the fact that existing bus fleets have aged in the last three years despite that fact that some were not being used.”

Mallaghan has invested heavily in its electric i-tec Arbus, not simply electrifying a diesel version but building a fully electric one. It was important to offer a plug-and-play solution to suit operators without worrying about special electric infrastructure. It is modular and can be customised depending on the airport’s requirements.

Podgrajsek said: “Small regional airports and major hubs have completely different operational patterns, charge times, distances and HVAC usage therefore offering such modularity and customisation is critical in order to provide the best operational output.”

Electric power is not the only alternative to diesel but it is the best and likely to remain so for some time. Podgrajsek said hydrogen requires significant infrastructure investment and bio-diesel does not reduce emissions enough.

He said: “Electric drivetrain efficiency is driven from the battery performance and for the larger, high voltage airport equipment Lithium batteries have now become the market standard. Mallaghan buses utilise the most up-to-date Lithium battery technology to give them operational advantages over existing products on the market.”

The electric bus follows the same principles of Mallaghan’s wide range of highly-acclaimed GSE products – designed and manufactured inhouse, it is built for heavy duty utilisation with lifespan of 25 years and with a reliable design that makes the electric bus easy to operate and maintain.

With carbon neutral goals for airports, the days of diesel power will soon be over and electric is the future, said Podgrajsek, and it will develop in a way that airport operators will go for buses that are adapted to their needs. Buses designed as electric vehicles are more efficient than electrified ones, and Mallaghan has designed its buses so they can be upgraded and modified according to customer requirements that may change in time.

Podgrajsek said: “We believe that electric vehicle modularity is key for the future, where the bus operators will be able to upgrade their batteries at a later stage in case of any operational changes or passenger increases.”

This article was originally published in the June issue of GHI.

Related articles