Call it a green conspiracy. In 2004, Southwest Airlines approached the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority with a proposition: The airline would replace its gasoline- and diesel powered ground service fleet with electric models if the airport would install the necessary recharging equipment.
Both parties would benefit with the resulting cut in emissions—a mandate that is being gradually implemented by the South Coast Air Quality Management District. Southwest Airlines would cut its daily per-vehicle fueling costs by nearly 85 to 90 percent. And Burbank Airport would provide its tenants with recharging capability, enabling them to more readily move to electric vehicles. The airport and airline agreed, and after a careful evaluation of available suppliers, they selected AeroVironment, Inc. to install 42 of its PosiCharge™ fast charge systems at the airport’s 14 gates.
PosiCharge works with all types and brands of batteries and with all electric vehicles, said AeroVironment’s project manager, Ryan Gibson. “At airports, those vehicles include baggage tugs, air stairs, baggage loading conveyors and pushback tractors.” He added that AeroVironment’s rapid-charging technology quickly profiles each battery and charges it to its optimum capacity. Because the battery remains in the vehicle, recharging can be done while the operator is on break or undertaking a different task. Further, up to 16 pieces of equipment can be charged at a station simultaneously, and PosiCharge measures electricity use not only at each station but also to each piece of equipment.
Southwest Airlines has made ground support equipment electrification a key component of its environmental programs. According to the company’s Web site, overall the airline has converted 580 pieces of equipment to electric models, reducing annual fuel consumption by more than 495,000 gallons. “This is the equivalent of reducing our CO2 emissions by more than 11 million pounds or taking more than 900 passenger cars off the road for one year,” the site says.
At Burbank Airport, where the systems have been in use since January 2005, electric vehicles’ anti-pollution benefits go beyond tail pipes. Mark Hardyment, Director of Noise and Environmental Programs at Bob Hope Airport, noted that passengers and workers track the residue of emissions and spills into the terminal and onto planes. “With electric vehicles, we do a lot less ramp scrubbing,” he said, “and we face fewer storm water runoff filtration issues and lower costs as oil and fuel spills are minimized.”