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Decarbonising the Aircraft Stand

While the dream of emissions-free flight will take time to materialise, ground side of aviation operations emerges as a practical arena for reducing emissions. 

In 2022, aviation accounted for 2% of global energy-related CO₂ emissions, surpassing the growth rates of other major transportation sectors. Acknowledging this impact, the aviation sector is ardently engaging in initiatives to reduce its carbon footprint. While the industry grapples with the environmental consequences of air travel, airport ground operations are evolving as airports pursue energy efficiency and ultimately, decarbonisation.  

Ground Operations: a promising frontier for Sustainability 

Amidst the challenges on the aircraft side, the ground side of aviation operations emerges as a practical arena for reducing emissions. Airport buildings and auxiliary structures have already made strides in curbing emissions. One of the focus areas now is a specialised area – the airport apron, encompassing parking stands for both airplanes and GSE.

Aircraft parking stands serve as intricate nodes where aircraft interface with the ground, orchestrating a myriad of activities such as: 

  • passenger boarding and disembarkation
  • cleaning services
  • loading and unloading baggage and cargo
  • technicians and flight personnel tasks
  • aircraft refuelling
  • external aircraft checks 

This complex dance of activities must occur simultaneously within strict time constraints, echoing the efficiency demands of Formula-1 pit stops. This is partly for safety reasons and partly because the financial viability of airline companies hinges on minimising ground time during active hours. 

Greening the Transition: Aircraft Docking and Ground Support 

At many airports around the world regulations dictate that, once docked at a stand, an aircraft has only a few minutes to connect to ground sources of power and preconditioned air before shutting down engines and internal power units. At this juncture, controlling air quality and temperature in the aircraft becomes crucial, as does the supply of power to the aircraft’s multiple systems. 

If the aircraft is not connected directly to the airport terminal building’s fixed installed supply systems, then supplying electrical power to the aircraft’s systems requires technology in the form of Aircraft Ground Power Units (AGPU). These units come in two main types based on power sources: 

  • Diesel Engine Powered 
  • Battery Powered or directly connected to the power grid

Moreover, AGPU installations can be categorised based on mobility: 

  • Fixed to ground 
  • Bridge mounted 
  • Mobile devices 
" Engine-powered AGPU’s consume diesel and produce emissions and are one of the first targets for decarbonising the apron. Electrification of the parking stand has become a priority for airports seeking to significantly reduce their carbon footprint.
Ivar Bal Senior Engineer

Where there are no permanently installed supply systems for power and conditioned air available yet, the AGPUs, together with ground vehicles such as fuel trucks, pushback trucks, catering vehicles, luggage handlers and waste services vehicles are slated for replacement with electric alternatives.  

This shift necessitates a robust charging infrastructure, placing a significant load on airport terminals to meet these demands.  

Here’s where we pioneer Sustainable Solutions 

The electrification of aprons is complex. Space on the apron is generally scarce because the area around the aircraft must be kept clear while its engines are operating. Regulatory and operational requirements mean additional constraints. Many vehicles must be accommodated, and congestion must be avoided in order to ensure safety and efficiencies. And each airport has its own challenges. 

Systems-specific expertise and wide-ranging experience is needed to ensure that handling processes flow smoothly and efficiently. This involves navigating stringent regulations, operational constraints, and site-specific needs at each airport. With a focus on specialised airport systems, Deerns excels in designing stands that align seamlessly with terminal infrastructure and airfield requirements.  

Deerns combines its engineering expertise with airport operational knowledge so that the apron design and its respective systems are perfectly integrated into each individual aircraft stand, avoiding operational difficulties. In Amsterdam, for example, as power units can’t be stored inside the apron due to a real risk of waterlogging and flooding, Deerns is engineering alternative solutions where GPUs are installed above ground. 

Working within the operational constraints of each airport, our advanced tools and modelling software enable us to simulate multiple scenarios addressing individual operational conditions. From optimising ground crew standby areas to designing efficient service routes, we prioritise safety, efficiency, and flexibility. For particularly complex, client-specific problems, our engineers even programme software to provide a frontline planning experience, ensuring precision in aircraft movement, stand design and equipment placement. 

In aircraft stand design, Deerns serves as a one-stop-shop, integrating the diverse needs of airports, airlines and ground handlers. From detailed stand design and aircraft ground servicing installations to boarding bridges, floodlighting and underground fuel hydrant systems, our comprehensive approach ensures that aircraft receive optimal service, ground handlers have adequate space, and all health and safety standards are met.  

This applies to both brownfield and greenfield projects. Our consulting engineers and designers advise architects in the very early stages of a project to ensure airport planning at its best, supported by strong engineering elements so that systems work optimally while reducing emissions to a minimum. 

Looking Ahead: Researching Future Technologies 

As the industry evolves towards hydrogen, electrical or biofuel powered flights, Deerns is at the forefront, researching and advising clients on future technologies. Our commitment extends beyond the present, ensuring that our solutions remain adaptable to emerging innovations. 

Decarbonising the apron is a critical piece in the larger puzzle of airport sustainability. Deerns is dedicated to supporting airports in their decarbonisation journey, offering expertise in new strategies, energy transition, smart networks, material choices, and front-line engineering – steering the aviation sector towards greener horizons. 

Let’s talk

Matthias Pöter

Sector Director Airports