25 May 2016 07:19:47 IST

To a flying start

Ground handling at airports to go cleaner and greener

Four months from now the busiest airport in the country — Indira Gandhi International — is poised to take one more crucial step towards cleaning up its act.

Its ground handling services will turn green when in September Turkey based Celebi, which amongst others provides the service, begins powering its cargo centre from the 2 MW solar energy unit it has set up.

“Our consumption from retail electricity supply will come down by 20 per cent,” says Murali Ramachandran, CEO-India, Celebi Aviation.

The company is among the certified ground handling agencies which provide services at airports around the country.

Small but significant This, however, is just one example of what ground handlers are doing towards a greener planet. According to aviation watchers many other steps have been taken which may seem small but are of immense significance and visible everywhere, though passengers who travel through major airports do not take much note of them.

Hiyav Bajaj, Director, Bhadra International India Pvt Ltd., the company that operates ground handling at six airports including Chennai, Coimbatore and Thiruvananthapuram points out, “Since most of our equipment is battery operated, none of our staff is exposed to fumes and noise that is rampant in airside operations.”

The green initiatives help to bring about a reduction in carbon and noise from machinery used at the airports including busesand aircraft cleaning equipment.

Celebi provides the example of Cobus which it uses to transport passengers to and fro from terminal to aircraft. “It (Cobus) has two engines — one is used to keep the air conditioning on and the other engine moves the bus.”

In other buses used at the airport, engines are switched on for the air conditioning, so as they wait for passengers the bus is kept in running mode. “Imagine a six-cylinder engine running in a stationery bus just to keep the cooling on. In Cobus the functions are divided,” Ramachandran explains. Ground handlers have also started using electric vehicles astugs instead of fuel guzzling farm tractors to pull trolleys for baggage or cargo. To keep aircraft lighting on, airports have started investing in electrically powered Bridge Mounted Equipment (BME). If this is not available then an aircraft has to use an Auxiliary Power Unit. “APU is environmentally unfriendly and guzzles fuel,” says Ramachandran.

Small beginnings Innovative though these steps may be, they are still very small beginnings in truly greening the airports in India. Says Bajaj: “There is a lot to catch up in terms of the sustainability measures which other comparable airports of the world employ.

The world is moving towards a lesser congested, quieter and greener airside. There has been negligible initiative from the airport operating community to move towards this direction in India.” One reason for this is the cost factor. Environment friendly ground support equipment is more expensive. For instance, a tug costs ₹25 lakh while a farm tractor to pull the luggage costs only ₹5 lakh.

Another hurdle is that there are only eight accredited ground handlers who are affiliated with international airlines and only some domestic airlines which are environmentally conscious.

“While, we (the eight accredited ground handlers) had complied with all the strict norms mentioned in the agreement signed with Airports Authority of India, it is a grave fact that such an emphasis is not being made with respect to the other operators- specially the non-entitled entities who are using equipment which is over 20 years old and not at all compliant,” says Bajaj.