The civil aviation ministry has mandated airlines and ground handling (GH) companies to phase out airport equipment that is older than twelve years and switch to electric or fuel efficient variants by May 2022.
While the companies have welcomed the ministry’s green initiative, they said that the deadline for implementation is tight, especially in the wake of financial challenges faced by the aviation sector during the pandemic.
Ground handling covers functions such as check-in, passenger boarding, cargo loading and unloading, aircraft cleaning etc. While domestic airlines are allowed to do self-handling, foreign airlines rely on GH companies.
Airlines and GH companies use motorised and non-motorised equipment such as low floor buses, step ladders, pushback tugs, cargo loaders, baggage tractors, pallet dollies, tow bars among others.
“It has been decided that all GH agencies and airlines doing self-handling at airports having passenger movement of more than 3.5 million passengers per annum shall comply with the minimum standard of ground support equipment and vehicle,” the civil aviation ministry said in a November 1 order. The order would cover around twenty-five top airports in the country.
It said the decision had been taken in order to ensure the use of state of art equipment and best practices in line with International Air Transport Association’s airport handling manual as also for maintaining an eco-friendly environment at airports. All GH companies and airlines doing self-handling have to ensure strict compliance of the minimum standards for ground support equipment (GSE) and vehicles in six months.
According to the order the maximum age limit of GSEs will be twelve years. Refurbished equipment too shall not be allowed under any circumstances, it said. The government also wants companies to induct electric-powered equipment or use diesel vehicles that are compliant with Bharat-VI emission standards.
“After careful evaluation of the guidelines vis-à-vis our equipment we will submit a feasibility report to the ministry. IndiGo being committed towards sustainable growth we have already implemented a switch of diesel operated GSE to electric ones at various airports,” an airline spokesperson said.
R Ramana, Director and CEO of GH agency AISATS said “The norms will require us to make multi crore investments. Equipment such as pushback tractors or low loaders (pallet loaders) are made to order. Usually it takes 6-8 months to receive them after placing an order. The intent of the policy is right. Every airport in the country was coming with its own policy and thus common standards will help. But its implementation timeline needs to be stretched and tailored so that airlines and ground handling companies are able to meet the conditions based on the capital expenditure implications.”
AISATS is among the two Air India-owned GH companies and operates at five airports. AISATS is being acquired by the Tata group along with the airline. The other firm AI Airport Services Limited functions at the other airports. Its CEO Rambabu CH said that the government has issued the order based on GH agencies’ recommendations but called for an extension in the six month deadline in view of the fund crisis faced by the company.
“Overall it is a good policy and will lead to standardization of equipment, bring the equipment on par with international standards and most critically help in reducing pollution. We welcome the initiative. There are a few challenges though. One is the ability to be able to implement as stated due to non availability of electric versions of some specialized equipment. Second being the lead time required for the whole sector to switch over. The Ground Handling Association will make a representation to the government regarding these points,” said Murali Ramachandran, India CEO of Celebi Aviation Holding, a GH
“We have been switching to electric powered units while making new investments over the years. All our baggage tractors are electric. Quite a few baggage loaders and passenger ladders are electrically powered. We have also invested in taxi bots (which enable aircraft to taxi without engine power),” Ramachandran added.
Industry sources also point out that an adequate number of charging points will also have to be provided at the airports to support the use of electric ground handling equipment.
Certain heavy equipment like the low loaders can also be refurbished and used for upto twenty years if refurbished as per the original equipment manufacturers’ recommendations. The policy could probably accommodate use of such high value equipment that are refurbished andcertified safe for use by OEMs, a source said.
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