Robotics on the ramps – how automation is enhancing ground handling

Date Published: May 17, 2019

Robots aren’t just in Hollywood anymore. In recent years, ground handlers have used robotic technology and automation to enhance and streamline ground support operations.

As air passenger capacity expands, so will the need for more advanced strategies to manage larger quantities of ground handling equipment, personnel, and information.

A growing strategy as a means to facilitate this growing demand is robotics and automation.

From utilizing fleet telematics to enhance overall operations, to using robotic technology for loading and unloading aircraft baggage, to predicative analytics, learn more about how robotics and automation is enhancing airports, aprons and ramps worldwide.

Automation with fleet telematics

Fleet telematics has many automated components which enhance and streamline ground support operations, including:

  • Automatic shutdown when ground handling equipment is idling for a specified amount of time. This automated feature is not only great for cost-savings, it also helps ground handlers meet air quality standards and sustainability goals.
  • ID Card-Readers which identify which ground support personnel are authorized to use certain types of ground support vehicles. The system also coordinates with the ASIC cards required by the International Air Transport Association and other airport authorities in freight environments.
  • Electronic check-ins, which enforces safety in real time by requiring electronic authorization. These include safety-belt use and the digital checklists required before ground support vehicles will turn on. The process is paperless, and any faults detected are automatically sent to maintenance for attention.

These automated features, available through Avro Tracker fleet telematics, not only enhance ground handling safety, but offer ground support companies cost-savings while doing so.

One GSE manager reported, “I just had a transmission malfunction on my pushback. When we checked the vehicle’s ECU diagnostics, we saw it was barely over warranty hours, but had idled for over 50% of its life!”

These automated safety features also prevent potential liability costs as increased safety and being able to remotely monitor workforce activity also represents savings in prevented accidents and the potential costs of litigation.

Robotic baggage handling and loading

A few airports worldwide have used robotic technology inside the terminal to automate tasks such as passenger check-ins, responding to queries on flight statuses and information about the destination city.

One of these robots is RADA the friendly robot in New Delhi’s Airport.

“Young employees engaged in ground services, gain immense customer service experience on the job, but the limited scope of their routine work could challenge their true potential,” said Ravinder Pal Singh, Vistara Chief Information and Innovation Officer to the Aviation Safety Management Society of India. “We thought of inventing a robot that can help us enhance customer experience by gradually taking over the routine, mundane tasks.”

According to the Aviation Safety Management Society of India, RADA the robot completes these automated tasks so ground handlers can focus their efforts on other aspects of ground handling operations.

Robotic technology is also being utilized outside the terminal on the ramp to streamline ground support services.

Though largely in trial phases, robotic technology can be used to collect, handle and load baggage into aircrafts.

This allows ground handlers to focus their attention on other aspects of ground handling and plane turnaround, including:

  • Plane de-icing
  • Providing lavatory and water services
  • Executing push-back services
  • Other aspects of customer service

Geneva trialed a ground-handling robot in 2016, called “Leo.” According to Airport Focus International, Leo is a fully autonomous, self-propelling baggage robot with the capacity to check-in aircraft passengers, print tags, and transport two suitcases with a maximum weight of 32-kgs (70.5-lbs).

After check-in and baggage tagging, Leo takes baggage directly to the baggage handling area where they are sorted and connected to the correct flight.

Leo also comes with an obstacle avoidance capability, which is essential for navigating in high-traffic environments like airports.

This robotic technology is being recognized as a solution to streamlining ground handling operations, and accommodating the growing amount of air passengers, allowing ground handlers to provide customers with quality air travelling experiences.

Predictive analytics in ground handling

Predictive analytics, available through automated data, allows ground handlers to accurately predict and plan for future ground operation success.

Predictive analytics are statistics and data that are used to predict future usage, demand and needs in the ground support industry.

These predictive analytics allow ground handlers to anticipate demands and identify cost-savings in order to maximize efficiency and stay competitive in the aviation industry.

Data which can be mined from Avro Tracker fleet telematics technology to form predictive analytics includes:

  • Logging vehicle use-hours which tracks utilization and helps plan future investments in fleet units, as well as alerts management to when maximum hours are approaching on lease contracts, or when preventive maintenance is due.
  • Monitoring safety with data logging features on speed control, drive times and impact detection, which allows management to identify risky behaviors that could have potentially negative future outcomes.
  • Logging travel patterns on vehicle use such as travel patterns and travel times.

It’s clear that with the many benefits of robotic technology and the robust automated features provided by fleet telematics, automation will be an essential key for ground handlers successfully meeting the growing demands placed on the ground support industry by the ever-increasing amount of air travellers.

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