The history of the baggage tractor

Nov 16, 2018

From its initial use in the commercial aviation field at the beginning of the 20th century, to present-day, baggage tractors have come a long way.

From the earliest agricultural tractor used as a baggage tractor to the modern-day, efficient tractors we know today, take a glimpse into the timeline of baggage transport evolution!

The beginning

Pictured above, this 1926 Duat Tow Tractor by Clark Tructractor Co. would haul freight and industrial materials before modern-day baggage tractors were invented.

Early 1900s

Although the aircraft was invented in the early 1900s, commercial aviation didn’t really pick up until the 1920s. At this time, commercial aviation was primarily used by dignitaries, the military, and the wealthy, after the first commercial flight took off in 1914.

In the beginning, before modern-day baggage tractors, agricultural tows were used to haul baggage from airport gates the aircraft. In 1923, Clark Tructractor Co. created the Duat Tow Tractor to haul baggage and various industrial material on airport grounds.

World War II – 1950s

The demand for GSE really picked up around World War II, during 1939 – 1945. Hundreds of tractors were built specifically for use by the U.S. Army.

The 1950s is when commercial aviation became popular among the masses. With flight traffic taking off, GSE companies needed to design baggage tractors to keep up with growing demands. It is during this time period that Tracma begins making tractors specifically designed for aircraft transport to replace the agricultural tractors that were previously being used.

1960 – 1970

In the 1960s, the FMC corporation built a cargo handing system for aircrafts, which really revolutionized the baggage transport process. The new cargo handling system included a containerization system for aircrafts. This system included a Flite-Line loader which made unloading a plane’s cargo possible in just 15 minutes. With this, turnaround times were completed more quickly, in turn demanding more efficient baggage tractors to tote passenger’s baggage to and from gates.

In 1969, Eagle Tugs create the bobtail cargo tractor. This tractor has seen upgrades throughout the decades, but still in production today.

1970 – 2000

After the commercial aviation boom and enhanced cargo loading capabilities were culminated, many GSE companies worked towards enhancing the comfortability of baggage tractors. This included refining seat comfort and ergonomics, creating a smoother ride and enhancing safety features. Companies also worked to engineer baggage tractors with higher draw bar pulls to accommodate larger baggage loads.

Today’s modern-day baggage tractors, like these baggage tractors pictured above, have the most enhanced safety, efficiency and user-friendly features thanks to decades of refinement.


Needless to say, today’s baggage tractors have come a long way in terms of features and efficiency.

Today, ground handlers have many options to choose from such as electric-powered, diesel-powered, or fuel-powered baggage tractors.

While fuel-powered baggage tractors have been around for decades, the world started seeing more electric-powered GSE entering the tarmac in the early 2000s.

Today, electric-powered baggage tractors are known for excellent ROI through cost-savings provided by the elimination of need for fuel. It is in this decade that baggage tractors also begin to include LED controllers.

Features of both the modern-day electric and fuel-powered baggage tractor include hydraulic steering, front and rear towing couplers with cab control, complete cab enclosure including windshield and wiper kit, Curtis controller with self-diagnosis functionality, vacuum assist hydraulic brakes and telematics packages for remote diagnostics and monitoring.

All of these modern-day features help to improve the efficiency of your ground handling operations.

Additionally, baggage tractor maintenance has evolved along with the equipment itself. Some GSE companies, such as Avro GSE, offer pro-active maintenance plans along with baggage tractors. Many companies opt to have their baggage tractors painted in their branding colours to enhance brand identity.

With how far baggage tractors have evolved, it will be interesting to see what other features and improvements come in ground support’s future years.


Avro GSE is part of the Saskarc family of companies.

We keep your GSE equipment and overall aircraft operations working efficiently and help our customers avoid downtime caused by old, outdated or malfunctioning GSE. We help customers modernize their fleet with advanced technology to maximize reliability, operational efficiency, and overall safety.

We provide GSE equipment service that is proactive, cost effective and designed for rapid problem response and resolution. We take care of the ground so your business stays in the air!