Without a robust network of ground team members and equipment, aircraft would not be able to perform any operations. With air travel as busy as ever, planes may fly routes over ten times per day. In fact, it is not uncommon for a commercial aircraft to support 24-hour operations, covering thousands of miles and transporting hundreds of occupants in that given period.
While most of the magic in aviation occurs in the air, an equally critical time is when the vessel is on the ground. It is here where inspection takes place, the aircraft is refueled, waste is drained, and other necessary actions are carried out to get the plane ready for its next journey. The various tools used to support such operations are called ground support equipment (GSE), and like everything else in aviation, interested parties are constantly looking for ways to improve operations. In this blog, we will discuss airport utility pit systems, which are being implemented at hubs worldwide to bolster the capabilities of ground service personnel and equipment.
Before comprehending utility pit systems, it is first necessary to understand how conventional GSE operations are facilitated. Below is a non-exhaustive list of GSE that may be encountered.
Conventionally, aircraft refueling has been facilitated by means of delivery from a self-contained fuel truck or cart. These vehicles contain all of the equipment necessary to carry out pumping operations, but can only hold up to 10,000 gallons of fuel.
In addition to fuel, aircraft go through an incredible amount of electricity during a single flight and will require significant recharging in between flights. The current modus operandi involves the delivery of a mobile power unit to the aircraft to supply the energy needed.
Serving the purpose of loading cargo onto the aircraft, container loaders are electric or gas-powered vehicles capable of supporting thousands of pounds.
Air Start Unit
Although most aircraft may be started using the auxiliary power unit (APU), there may be situations where the plane is not equipped with one, or the device stops working. In any case, an air start unit may be used to provide high-volume air to the engines to help facilitate their start-up.
Aircraft require both the disposal of waste material and the delivery of clean water. Both of these actions require a pump, which is either electrically or gas-powered.
After reviewing the various equipment types found in GSE operations, it becomes clear that the limiting factor is the availability of "hard" resources, such as fuel, electricity, and compressed air. In almost every case, the equipment must be brought close to the aircraft while also requiring their own refueling at some point. The solution to this? Utility pit systems. Pit systems allow for necessary resources to be placed in close proximity to the aircraft and ground service equipment while also reducing the necessity for long hoses and wires. As a result, there is less clutter on the tarmac, faster and more continuous service, and fewer incidents involving a vehicle or aircraft running over lines.
In all pit systems, the connectors are contained in an underground module that remains retracted when not in use. A hatch-pit design features a small, hinged door that contains the connectors on the bottom. Although this configuration takes up less space and is quicker to deploy, it is less ergonomic for ground support staff, who have to bring the lines from ground level to the target. The alternative solution is the pop-up pit system, which may be brought up to any height desired, thereby reducing the strain on personnel. In either case, the hatch of the pit system should be durable and capable of supporting the weight of an aircraft tire.
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