It’s true to say that everyone takes aircraft travel for granted nowadays, even though it really isn’t that long ago that mankind’s dream to fly through the air like a bird was nothing more than that, a dream. The truth is though that aircraft take a lot of looking after. Just to get them ready to take to the skies and keeping them properly maintained requires a lot of work.
The ground crews who perform this vital role have to rely upon certain specialist pieces of to enable them do their jobs. This equipment is collectively referred to as ground support equipment which includes products that fall into categories such as aircraft power equipment, aircraft moving equipment and aviation tools. But what is this ground support equipment actually needed for and why do airlines have to rely upon it so much?
Moving Aircraft – Aircraft Tugs
Well, let’s think about how an aircraft must be moved into and out of its parking slot. This operation requires precision and control of something that could weigh an awful lot – from several thousand kilograms up to a hundred tonnes or more. It therefore requires a specialist piece of aircraft moving equipment known as an aircraft tug. These aircraft tugs can range from small hand operated pieces of equipment that give powered assistance and can move aircraft up to around 5 tonnes to larger all-wheel drive vehicles that are incredibly powerful and can move a large passenger aircraft full of passengers and baggage around with relative ease.
Powering Aircraft – Ground Power Units
Pushing and pulling an aircraft around is one thing, but providing the power to enable it to start its engines requires a very different piece of equipment again. Most aircraft require what is known as a ground power unit to supply them with power in the correct voltage in order to get their engines started. The exact requirements for this power vary from one aircraft to another. For some small aircraft the requirement is for 12V power whilst many others require 24V or even 28V power units. As well as supplying power to start the aircraft some pieces of aircraft power equipment can also provide a continuous source of power whilst the plane is on the ground. These continuous power units enable the on-board systems to run from the power supplied by the ground power unit – or GPU as they are sometimes called. Add to this other specialist types of ground power equipment like frequency converters etc. and you will start to realise just how complicated the issue of supplying power to an aircraft can be.
As well as moving and powering an aircraft there are of course other tasks that are crucial to keep it maintained and flying safely. Specialist tools are used to test, measure and maintain an aircraft’s systems in tiptop condition.
Preventative maintenance involves many forms of inspection and testing of the aircraft’s systems and structure. This can be carried out by the use of specialist meters, and tools to see how the aircraft’s systems are functioning when under the stresses and loads put on them during flight as well as small, flexible inspection cameras that are used to check out areas of an aircraft’s structure that is normally hidden.
Although they are not part of the actual aircraft, even the ground power units (GPUs) mentioned above have to be tested periodically too. For this, yet another type of equipment called load banks are used, with these generating a prescribed amount of electricity draw in order to test the reliability and load capacity of the ground power units.
When an issue is found with an aircraft that needs to be rectified this is usually taken care of immediately. If it is not possible to do so, then it may mean that the aircraft has to be grounded. Aircraft maintenance crews will have set procedures for many of the more common issues too which means that they can usually minimise the time required for these issues to be resolved, thereby getting the aircraft back into a safe and serviceable condition again swiftly.
Precisely because of the possible catastrophic results of the failure of any part of an aircraft, maintenance of these complex machines is not considered as an ordinary maintenance activity and is taken very seriously. The aviation tools that aircraft mechanics use are the very best quality tools that are available and no short-cuts are taken.
Now you know a little more about what the phrase ground support equipment actually refers to. Perhaps, next time you are climbing up the steps to get on an aircraft, you might just take the opportunity to take a look around you to spot some of this specialised ground support equipment in action.