Passengers check in their luggage, collect their boarding pass and expect to board their plane and take off on schedule. Customers shipping freight by air expect it to arrive on time. In all likelihood, neither airline passengers nor customers shipping freight know or care that a host of ground support equipment is needed to meet their needs.
Few people outside the aviation industry appreciate that it’s ground support equipment that enables an airport to remain operational. Fewer still know that the single function an airplane serves, getting passengers and freight safely from point A to B, is only one among many crucial functions.
Ask any lay person how a plane gets to it’s hangar and they’re likely to say it will taxi there, rather than be pulled by a vehicle equipped with an aircraft tow bar. And why wouldn’t they? When taking off or landing, the plane they’re in taxis to and from the gate. If you ask someone how planes can back into a hangar they’ll probably say using a reverse gear, rather than by being pushed inside by a vehicle equipped with an aircraft tow bar. In short, the general public’s appreciation of the purpose and importance of ground support equipment is minimal at best.
Ground Support Equipment Needed
The fact is, aircraft need special handling between flights, requiring purpose built machines. A typical scenario may be that a plane disembarks passengers and then needs to be moved from the gate to accommodate another flight. A vehicle equipped with an aircraft tow bars arrives and tows the aircraft to a standing area on the tarmac. A vehicle towing a generator pulls up and is connected to the plane to provide electricity to keep the air conditioning, lighting, and so on running inside the idle aircraft. A fuel truck pulls up and the workers riding in the cab hop out, hook up to the plane and begin to fill the jet’s tanks. A vehicle with aircraft passenger stairs arrives and pulls up to one of the doors. A catering truck arrives and backs up under another door. It’s rear compartment is raised on a scissor host until it is level with the jet’s door and carts full of meals and beverages are wheeled into the planes cabin. A lavatory service cart drives up and its crew jumps out to do their job. A cleaning crew that already boarded the plane at the gate has finished. They disembark with tools and bags of garbage in tow via the recently erected aircraft passenger stairs. Another vehicle drives up, a virtual aircraft mechanic’s garage on wheels. The driver climbs out of the cab, grabs some gadgets and climbs the aircraft passenger stairs to begin an examination of the aircraft.
This single airplane sitting alone on the tarmac, receiving routine servicing and inspection, depends on numerous pieces of ground support equipment for conveyance and servicing to get it back into the air. Whether it’s a vehicle equipped with an aircraft tow bar, lavatory service equipment, auxiliary power supply cart, aircraft passenger stairs, fuel truck, or deicing rig, the equipment on the ground is vital. To clarify just how vital it is… if there is no ground support equipment available to service airplanes, there will be no planes taking off.