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European Alternative Fuels Observatory

Electric ground support equipment at airports


Ground support equipment (GSE) is used at airports to service aircraft between flights. Services include refuelling, towing airplanes or luggage/freight carts, loading luggage/freight, transporting passengers, loading potable water, removing sewage, loading food, de-icing airplanes, and firefighting.[1]

In addition to GSE, airports serve as hubs, not only for passengers but also for cargo. Cargo-handling facilities across the globe experience significant congestion.

Also, the individual steps of a traveller's journey all contribute to their carbon footprint. To make zero-emission flights possible, airports are already working on long-term aircraft and infrastructure plans.

Ground support equipment

Figure 2: Overview of Ground Support Equipment (GSE at airports) Source Airport Suppliers (2023) Link:

Various Types of Airport Ground Equipment and Vehicles:

  1. Electric towing tractors (also known as pushback tractors/trucks, tug, tug masters, airport tractors and many other names): These powerful airport support vehicles, known as tugs, are responsible for towing and taxiing aircraft. They come in different sizes, suitable for specific aircraft, and can tow between 40 to 51 tons weight, depending on the model.
  2. Electric cargo tugs: Essential for airline operations, cargo tugs facilitate the movement of equipment and high-value goods that ground crews cannot handle manually or require timely delivery.
  3. Electric lavatory trucks: Lavatory trucks are employed to empty and refill aircraft lavatories. They use manual or electric power to remove waste from flights and replenish lavatory tanks with a water and disinfectant mixture.
  4. Electric potable water trucks: These vehicles transport safe, drinkable water to aircraft efficiently. Potable water pumps, equipped with electric pumps, facilitate the transfer of water to the aircraft.
  5. Electric container loaders: Ground crews rely on container loaders to swiftly load and unload cargo, adhering to tight airline schedules. These loaders feature platforms for raising and lowering cargo containers, with wheels for easy movement in and out of aircraft.
  6. Electric belt loaders: Specifically designed for loading and unloading baggage and cargo items not stored in containers, belt loaders utilise conveyor belts that crews position at aircraft baggage compartment doors for efficient operation.[2],[3]

This array of electric airport ground equipment and vehicles plays a crucial role in ensuring the smooth and efficient operation of airport logistics and services

Problems, challenges identified

Key to introducing an all-electric or hybrid-electric fleet in the air transport system is the setup of a suitable ground infrastructure. First, it is necessary to have an overview of the ground support equipment (GSE).

It is a promising market opportunity to deploy new electric GSE (eGSE) technologies, partly because the customers are generally large and technologically sophisticated airlines, contractors, or airports. Since airlines are highly exposed to petroleum price volatility, fuel diversification may be of particular benefit to them.

Due to its low-end torque, frequent start/stops, idle time, and short required range, GSE is particularly suited to electrification. Hydraulic lifts (for access to high airplanes), refrigeration (catering), and pumps (for gasoline, potable water, and sewage) are some of the auxiliary loads that can be more efficiently met by electric power sources (rather than idling diesel motor vehicles). A key feature of eGSE is an inching device that allows operators to stand behind luggage tugs and inch them into the trailer's hitch. The presence of electric recharging points at an airport can help reduce traffic congestion caused by GSEs and non-productive travel. Electric recharging points can also be safely located at more locations than diesel refuelling stations.

The six most common pieces of GSE which are already electrified are pushbacks, belt loaders, container loaders, luggage tugs, lavatory truck and water truck.

Here is a collection of challenges that could arise with rolling out recharging infrastructure for electric ground-handling vehicles at airports:

  • High upfront costs: Installing a comprehensive recharging infrastructure at an airport can be expensive, especially if the airport is large or has multiple terminals. The cost of recharging stations, electrical upgrades, and other necessary equipment can add up quickly.
  • Infrastructure limitations: The electrical grid at some airports may not be able to handle the additional load of recharging EVs without significant upgrades. This could cause delays and additional costs.
  • Logistical challenges: Recharging stations need to be installed in strategic locations to ensure that ground-handling vehicles can easily access them when needed. This may require a significant amount of planning and coordination, particularly if the airport has limited space or is undergoing construction. Time and logistics for battery charging need to be optimised to enable the best possible use of equipment.
  • Maintenance and repair: Unlike traditional ICE equipment, recharging stations for EVs generally involve less complex maintenance and repair procedures. Nevertheless, it's essential to ensure they operate properly. This could be particularly challenging in an airport setting, where downtime could cause significant disruptions to operations.
  • Compatibility issues: Different types of electric ground handling vehicles may require different types of recharging stations and ensuring that all the different types of vehicles can be charged efficiently could be a challenge.
  • Safety considerations: Electric recharging stations must be installed and maintained with safety in mind, particularly given the high voltage of the electricity involved. This could require additional training and safety protocols for airport staff.
  • Managing demand: As more electric ground handling vehicles are added to an airport's fleet, demand for recharging stations could increase. Ensuring that there are enough stations to meet this demand could be a challenge.
  • Regulatory considerations: When setting new requirements for recharging infrastructure at airports, the authorities should take a holistic view of the regulatory requirements existing at various levels i.e., regional, national and European. The overlap of different obligations in a short period of time may reduce airports’ capacity to proceed with infrastructure upgrades and installing new equipment. At the same time, regulations around electrical installations, particularly in a high-traffic area like an airport, could be complex and time-consuming to navigate.

Best practices & case studies

The Italian Pact for Decarbonisation of Air Transport

Italy policy

Italy's Aeroporti di Roma, a company under the Atlantia Group, has presented the Pact Manifesto in Brussels, emphasising the commitment of all stakeholders to decarbonise the aviation sector. This initiative aligns with the European Union's overarching goals for a green transition and climate neutrality by 2050. It underscores the industry's determination to play a central role in this transition, taking into account the complexity of the challenge and the urgency of the task.

The Italian Pact for Decarbonisation of Air Transport, as led by Aeroporti di Roma, exemplifies a best practice in the electrification of ground handling equipment at airports. By focusing on charging infrastructure for EVs and embracing a multi-approach strategy, this initiative lays the foundation for a sustainable, low-emission future for the aviation sector. It demonstrates the industry's commitment to environmental stewardship and its readiness to collaborate with stakeholders and decision-makers to achieve ambitious climate goals.[4]


Frankfurt Airport

Frankfurt airport

In order to decarbonise its operations, Fraport AG is gradually electrifying its ground services fleet at Frankfurt Airport (FRA). Frankfurt Airport will receive EUR 690 000 from the State of Hesse to expand its airside recharging infrastructure and purchase new electric buses to reduce carbon emissions. The ambition is to reach a carbon-free airport by 2045. Around 16 % of Fraport's fleet at Frankfurt Airport is powered by electricity, which is 570 vehicles. Two rapid recharging points will be commissioned by the end of 2022 as part of the recharging infrastructure expansion project.

Additionally, two pop-up recharging hubs will be installed on the airport's apron to charge eight cars or baggage tractors simultaneously with nine rapid recharging points. A recharging hub can also supply power to a bus or aircraft tractor.

Dedicated recharging depots will also be built for the passenger bus fleet, which will include a reservation tool that tracks availability and recharging levels.[5]

Mallaghan launches new all-electric airport bus

A leading manufacturer of airport GSE, Mallaghan, has launched its new electric airport bus. ABM Aviation has already completed successful trials of the all-electric bus.

More than 10 airports across Europe already use the Mallaghan Rbus 50 W since it was launched in 2019. The all-electric Árbus has the longest battery range of any airport bus on the European market and can be easily charged with existing infrastructure at airports. Smaller regional airports or major hubs can use the bus because of its flexible battery capacity.

Vienna Airport

Vienna airport

Vienna Airport has become CO2 neutral since 2023 and is increasingly implementing new projects to become more sustainable and energy efficient. Thanks to the biggest solar farm in Austria, Vienna Airport produces 40 % of the total consumption of power at the airport site.

To continue decreasing their emissions and further manage energy demand, the airport has decided to move towards a 100 % zero-emission fleet for handling passengers and ground operations. Vienna Airport already operates a fleet of electric cars as well as some electric baggage handling machines and is now transforming its bus fleet and pushbacks fleet to make them electric and hydrogen. One of the greatest challenges met by the Vienna Airport authorities is finding zero-emission ground handling vehicles available on the market. Nonetheless, Vienna Airport is already planning ahead and considering what kind of recharging infrastructure it needs. The airport has already rolled out normal power recharging stations as well as fast recharging stations and currently counts 63 recharging stations. Some are publicly available for travellers to make use of at parking locations while some are dedicated to the company fleet and located on a central parking area at the airport.

Vienna Airport has pointed out that it is impossible to supply high-demand energy to every point on the airport, and that three or four central charging stations are needed to keep the grid going.

Vienna Airport benefitted from some financial support from the regional government for the installation of recharging stations and photovoltaic plants.


Aena SME, S.A. is the world's leading company in airport infrastructure management by passenger volume. It manages 46 airports and 2 heliports in Spain and participates directly or indirectly in the management of another 23 airports in different countries of the world. In 2019 Aena was the European airport operator with the highest volume of passengers, with 2 934 million (Spain + Luton).

AENA has adopted a Climate Action Plan to reach the Net Zero Carbon target by 2040. As part of the work to reach this target, AENA has fixed 100 % sustainable vehicles target by 2026. This will include vehicles run on sustainable fuels but also EVs as 26 % of the fleet will be electrified by 2026. Additionally, AENA is looking to promote sustainable mobility in the airport fleet by implementing a car sharing pilot project of its airport fleet in 2022. This pilot test will lay the foundations for the shared use of handling vehicles throughout the AENA network and therefore should participate in the reduction of the need for equipment and improve the efficiency of activities.[6]

On top of that, AENA is also looking to electrify its ground handling fleet to achieve 78 % of ground handling vehicles by 2030.

More comprehensively, AENA has established sustainability requirements in contracts with Rent a car, VTC and car sharing options provided at its airports which should further accelerate the deployment of zero-emission vehicles.

AENA is also rapidly electrifying its shuttle service between terminals in various airports. The cases of Barcelona and Madrid airports are particularly promising as both airports look to electrify 100 % of their shuttle fleet by 2026.

To support the deployment of EVs on airport ground, AENA has set the objective of installing 250 airside recharging points by 2026 and 890 by 2030 (AENA 2022). Lastly, to encourage travellers to switch to emobility, AENA has set the goal to install one recharging point for every 40 parking places by 2024.

​​​​​​Policy recommendations

As airports and their GSE are engaging in the transition towards e-mobility, public authorities should:

  1. Incentivise the electrification of ground operations at airports to speed up the decarbonisation process. This includes providing financial incentives to support the rolling-out of recharging stations, especially non-publicly available ones, as well as more investment in the local and regional power grid to fulfil the demand of supply and income of renewable energy.
  2. Accelerate the decision-making process and reduce the bureaucracy for projects related to energy strategy: Permitting procedures should be faster and smoother for airport operators to be incentivised to move towards zero-emission ground fleets. Public authorities should also remain open to change and welcome new projects.
  3. Plan effectively the grid together with airport operators and energy providers which should take into consideration higher electrification needs on airports’ premises to ensure the electrification of vehicles can happen smoothly.
  4. Provide access to clean and renewable energy sources to ensure the highest sustainability benefits from the provision of electricity and satisfy electricity demand (possibly making airports as clean energy communities/ hubs). As such this will contribute to energy system integration and also means that investment in storage technologies could become essential for storing excess energy.
  5. Support smaller airports to undertake the necessary investments. This would also help to maintain the industry’s financial capacity to invest in other climate mitigation measures that can achieve significant emissions reductions (e.g. sustainable aviation fuels). 


Specific recommendations for electrification of GSE:

  • Seek expert guidance: Public authorities should initiate the transition to electrification of airport ground operations by seeking guidance from industry experts and relevant governmental agencies. Collaborating with local power authorities and equipment suppliers can also provide valuable insights and support.
  • Plan and coordinate thoroughly: Airports and facilities, including ground service providers should conduct a comprehensive assessment of their current GSE fleet to identify opportunities for electrification. Develop a strategic plan outlining which GSE can be retrofitted or replaced with electric alternatives and the associated benefits. Consider infrastructure needs, including charging stations and power supply enhancements, to support electric GSE. Plan for maintenance cycles and charging methods to ensure a smooth transition.
  • Strategic implementation: When installing charging stations and deploying electric GSE, consider the facility's traffic patterns, configurations, regulations, available operational space, and existing power supplies. Implement strategic charging station placement to optimise equipment uptime, utilising opportunity-charging and fast-charge technology as necessary.
  • Implement a tailored ‘Retrofit and Replace’ strategy: Airports and ground service providers should consider implementing retrofitting and replacement strategies customised to their specific circumstances. In some instances, especially for airports facing financial constraints or lacking experience, it may be advisable to adopt a phased approach. Under this approach, equipment is gradually replaced as it reaches the end of its service life. However, it's important to note that this approach may not be suitable for all operators, as some may have access to sufficient funds, enabling a more rapid replacement strategy. This faster approach can come with its own set of advantages.







[6]Link to source.