Reaching New Heights

A new generation of vehicles has been produced to cope with the Airbus A380 and its 26ft-high doors. (Martyn Cartledge)

Martyn Cartledge reports on the vehicles that are used to handle the giant A380s that operate from Manchester Airport.

A new generation of vehicles has been produced to cope with the Airbus A380 and its 26ft-high doors. (Martyn Cartledge)

Ground handlers face an inherent problem when working with jet airliners – with access doors upwards of 20ft (6m) from ground level, it is not a case of simply walking up, opening the door and loading up the aircraft.
As a solution, all of the world’s airports have various service vehicles that have been designed to access these doors whilst carrying the product for delivery.  In recent years there has been a new generation of these vehicles designed to cope with ‘superjets’, such as the Airbus A380 and its 26ft (8m)-high doors.
High-lift vehicles all work on the same basic principle: take the product from ground level to a height at which it can be easily put into – or indeed onto – the aircraft.  These vehicles can be anything from cleaning trucks to medical units, catering vehicles to de-icing cherry pickers, right through to heavyweight container/pallet loaders or specialist units such as fire service turntable ladders.
The majority of these vehicles achieve their high-lift capabilities by utilising a scissor mechanism.  Therefore, the height required dictates the minimum length of the vehicle, due to the need to maintain stability at the highest point.  Most of these vehicles are from a combination of suppliers and manufacturers, whereby the chassis comes as standard from one manufacturer, such as Mercedes or Iveco, which is delivered to the manufacturer of the specialist body, perhaps Mallaghan Engineering in Northern Ireland, DOLL in Germany or Airmarrel in France among others.  The second company marries the components together and delivers the completed unit to the customer.
To get some insight into the use of such vehicles, Airports International visited LSG Sky Chefs and the fire service at Manchester Airport, UK, which have specialist high-lift equipment designed to cope with the A380.
In 2011, LSG received 17 new vehicles from Mallaghan/Iveco to handle its operations at Birmingham, Manchester, Heathrow and Gatwick. (Martyn Cartledge)

In 2011, LSG received 17 new vehicles from Mallaghan/Iveco to service their operations at Birmingham, Manchester, Heathrow and Gatwick.  The year before, two Manchester-based vehicles were sourced from Stralis in light of the introduction of the A380.
Vehicles for smaller airliners routinely reach heights of up to 20.3ft (6.2m), with a short bridge which then extends from the roller shutter door to meet the access door on the aircraft.  On the latest vehicles front and rear sensors produce visual and audible warnings in the cab to help guide the driver and assistant up to and away from the aircraft safely.
However, on the A380 the doors are 27.6ft (8.4m) from the ground and access can be made difficult as the vehicle is not able to stop directly under the door due to the proximity of the wing.  This called for a longer vehicle with a bigger scissor mechanism which, in addition to its moving walkway/bridge, also has the advantage of being able to move the container section horizontally by 3.3ft (1m).  These vehicles also benefit from being interchangeable between the A380 and other aircraft types.  When servicing smaller aircraft, the maximum height is fixed at 20.3ft and the body will remain horizontally static.  The equipment is also built to comply with European-wide standards to encourage use at other airports and LSG sites, despite potential differences in loading procedures and facilities.
Operators using the vehicles need a HGV2 (Heavy Goods Vehicle) licence.  All other information, such as gearbox type and body operation, will be passed from the manufacturers to LSG employees and then to the drivers.
A Metz PLC II DLK 23-12 turntable ladder has been acquired by Manchester Airport’s fire service for use in the event of an emergency or incident involving the giant jet. At a maximum height of 75.5ft and with a radius of 39.4ft, it’s quite an experience being at the top, even in a light wind! (Martyn Cartledge)

The new vehicles currently being accepted at LSG sites are fitted with a Euro 5 category engine which the manufacturers claim have low CO2 emissions.  They have three years’ warranty and are maintained in-house on a graded schedule.  These services occur annually, prior to the MOT, and the equipment undergoes a safety inspection every six weeks at Manchester.
Over on the south side of the airfield sits a very different type of high-lift vehicle, again purchased specifically to adhere to the needs of handling an A380.  A Metz PLC II DLK 23-12 turntable ladder has been acquired by the airport’s fire service for use in the event of an emergency or incident involving the giant jet.  At a maximum height of 75.5ft (23m) and with a radius of 39.4ft (12m), it’s quite an experience being at the top, even in a light wind!
Again, this unit comprises a specifically designed body on a standard truck chassis.  However, although the licensing requirements to drive this vehicle are the same as the catering truck, not surprisingly, to use it, its operators need considerably more training on an ongoing basis.