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With many US manufacturers coming to Atlanta fresh from attending a rival show in Las Vegas, and others choosing alternative means to target customers, there was more to talk about than simply new equipment at this year's Inter Airport Atlanta.

Inter Airport Atlanta always provides plenty of talking points, and the 1998 model was no exception. However, instead of simply discussing the relative merits of the equipment on display, exhibitors and visitors alike had almost as much to say about the relative merits of airport shows themselves.

Many exhibitors had arrived in Atlanta barely a month after the strategically-timed launch of a rival event (see box story, Two's a Crowd) in Las Vegas. While this did not appear to dampen their enthusiasm -- exhibitor numbers hit an all-time high -- the arrival of competition did appear to impact on visitor numbers.

However, for those that did make the trip to the Georgia International Convention Centre there was plenty of new equipment on show, and also plenty of incident. While Stewart & Stephenson announced the acquisition of TUG Manufacturing Corporation, Denmark's Vestergaard offered an impromptu display of the fire fighting capabilities of its Elephant deicing units when flames were spotted coming out of a nearby dumpster.

The fire-fighting deicing unit -- which used water rather than deicing fluid on the dumpster -- was number eight of 12 units on their way to Toronto's Lester Pearson International for use by ground handling agent, Hudson General.

Elsewhere, ground power unit manufacturer, Arvico Corporation, arrived to find that two out of the three demonstration units delivered to its stand had been badly damaged during unloading. However, to prove that every cloud does indeed have a silver lining, Arvico representatives patched up the two damaged units -- which were in surprisingly fine fettle considering how far they had fallen -- and displayed them as an example of their overall sturdiness.

Many companies reported that they had made those all-important one or two contracts, while others actually announced orders at the show. TLD-AET, for instance, announced an order from Air France for 25 towbarless tractors manufactured by its sister company, TLD/Tracma.

Air France has ordered the company's TPX200S -- which was on display in Atlanta -- a unit designed to handle aircraft up to the Boeing 777, as well as a TPX350, which will handle the French carrier's fleet of B-747s and larger Airbuses

The company also announced a further contract with a French ground handler for delivery of eight of the company's Model 1510 water service trucks, and 15 Model 1410 lavatory service vehicles.

Also exhibiting in the outside area, Air BP Americas announced exclusive rights to purchase the entire production rights of the new Rampstar series of refuelling trucks, which will take place through next year. Air BP Americas has an option to extend the agreement through to 2000 in a deal spurred by the positive response from the Air BP customer network at the show.

The Rampstar is a custom-built airport refueler, which boasts a host of specific safety and environmental features, such as catch pans and sample re-claim tanks.

The vehicle moved from idea to reality very quickly, with its specifications first outlined by Air BP late last year. By January of this year, Miami-based Engine and Accessory had submitted designs for approval. The chassis was then built by Engine & Accessory, the custom cab supplied by Kidron Cab, and the tank and pumping equipment by Bosserman Aviation Equipment.

Visitors to the outside area also had an opportunity to catch up with AMR Services, the US handler which has acquired the licence to market, develop and sell a patented new airport surface cleaning system from Cyclone Surface Cleaning.

Instead of cleaning with abrasive action, Cyclone's process cleans oil, grime and FOD from concrete and asphalt surfaces using a high-speed rotating spray device with just a single pass over the surface. During the process the water is recaptured and pumped through a series of filtering units where liquid and solids are separated, so concentrating waste matter for disposal.

"We designed this new technology to specifically deal with the growing challenge airports and airlines face of cleaning concrete surfaces in an environmentally safe way," said Richard Rohrbacher, the inventor of the system who has spent the best part of eight years working on its development.

AMR Cyclone currently performs surface cleaning, rubber removal and paint removal for airports such as San Diego, Burbank, and Phoenix. The joint venture is currently completing the assembly of a new Cyclone system which will operate with the use of a patented hydraulic Cyclone technology.

According to AMR-Cyclone, the new hydraulic system will be capable of cleaning up to 160,000 square feet a day, including some of the more hard to get to areas on the ramp and apron.

While cleaning San Diego Airport recently, the system removed 11 fifty-five gallon barrels of sludge, dirt and oil from the surface around the airport gates, ramp and surrounding areas.


"It has been slow here [the show], but we have learnt a great deal in terms of focus and the direction in which we need to head with this product," Rohrbacher told Airports International. "We must really focus on our core market in the US before anywhere else."

WPI Burton Electrical Engineering took Atlanta as an opportunity for the US launch of its Combi Box System, a fixed underground aircraft support system. The product has been in place for 10 years in Denmark and Sweden, and is designed to reduce the number of service vehicles on the ramp.

According to the company, the Combi reduces ramp crowding and safety problems, increases gate capacity and shortens turnround times. The savings that result from this kind of central control of ramp operations is such that the system pays for itself in a one to five-year time frame, claims WPI Burton.

Separate underground boxes house air conditioning, jet fuel, potable water, lavatory service and 400Hz electrical service capabilities. Not surprisingly with its history of operation in Scandinavia, the perimeter of each box is heated to keep its contents from freezing and safe from snow and ice build-up.

The top of each box is level with the ground which means that ramp sweepers and ploughing vehicles can simply work over the top Of it. However, with excavation needed for installation, the company admits that the Combi Box system is perhaps best suited for installation during new terminal construction rather than retro-fitting.

Germany's Goldhofer saw a flurry of activity at its outside stand, particularly on the middle day. Goldhofer has just broken into the US market with an order for two of its AST-2 towbarless tractors from Delta in Atlanta. The two units will be delivered in December and January, said Ruth Goldhofer, Executive Vice President.

SBS International, which started life more than 25 years ago offering flight crew scheduling systems for airlines, highlighted the results of its 1995 partnership with German software and consulting company, Inform. The two came together to create an integrated resource management system for the planning, rostering, tracking and real-time allocation of ground handling resources at airports.


According to Carlos Sanjuan, Vice President Marketing, SBS, the two companies complemented each other very well in terms of the technology they could offer, and the collaboration has seen genuine steps forward in terms of product development.

The US-German alliance saw the creation of GroundStar (previously RampAssist), an advanced, and highly-flexible airport resource management system. Its main goal is to increase the productivity of staff and equipment by optimally planning and controlling their operations.

The thinking is that several factors lie beyond the direct control of airlines, airports and handlers such as bad weather, slot changes and strikes. With ground handling operations, in particular, prone to unpredictable influences, it has become increasingly difficult to provide timely and competitive service without some kind of `intelligent' system support, explained Sanjuan.

GroundStar consists of several modules, such as PlanControl, StaffControl and RealTimeControl, which can run together or as individual modules depending on the needs of the customer.

"We are also in the process of developing another module, GateControl, which allows airports to plan and control gate assignments on a daily basis," explained Sanjuan.

Although Sanjuan says that SBS is targetting worldwide sales, he concedes that the system is probably best only for airports of a certain size. "We are finding that the system is best for those organisations that have move than 300 employees, as below that I think it is more difficult to find a cost justification," he told Airports International.

GroundStar is already in operation, in various modules, with DNATA in Dubai -- the first to take up the system -- as well as with Copenhagen Airport Services, and Aero Groundservices at Amsterdam Schiphol. Meanwhile, SBS has seen Air Canada sign one of the largest contracts yet for the system, with StaffControl, PlanControl, and GateControl all being installed for the airline at Vancouver, Calgary and Halifax.


According to SBS, the use of GroundStar has, in some cases, seen savings of 12%-40%, mainly through covering an increased workload with currently available resource capacities.

The system also provides non-financial benefits, as well as dealing with `quality of life' issues such as fair distribution of workload for available staff, and reduction off stress levels in the control centre.

Honeywell Airport Systems took the opportunity to show off its complete package of airport airside solutions for the first time since the company's high profile acquisitions of both Daimler-Benz Aerospace AG's (DASA) Airport Systems business, in July, and Hughey and Philips, in March.

The acquisition of DASA included a lighting business, a visual docking guidance system, airport information management products, a GPS landing system and a project management office. The acquisition of Hughey and Phillips, on the other hand, added capabilities in airfield lighting control and monitoring systems and signage, as well as Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-certified tower and obstruction warning lights.


Although the company says that it has not quite pieced together all of the pieces in its airport jigsaw, it is now able to offer one of the most comprehensive portfolios of any company when it comes to airside solutions.

Honeywell's Visual Docking Guidance System (VDGS) is of particular interest to the North American market, and Honeywell was showing the product off for the first time in Atlanta.

The system employs a video camera with a wide sensitivity range to give speedy and reliable tracking of all types of taxiing aircraft. An intelligent image processing system identifies each aircraft type as it taxis, while three-dimensional, life-size drawings of all aircraft models that can dock to the airbridges are stored in the system. The system matches the video image with the two-dimensional model projection of the expected aircraft.


The VDGS works out the precise coordinates and angular position of the aircraft from the size and spatial position of the locked model, and the resulting data is then converted into guidance information for the pilot. As soon as the stop point is reached and the aircraft is stationary, the on-block time is recorded and forwarded to the airport's general information system for processing (the same happens with off-block times).

The LCD displays ensure excellent visibility even in direct sunlight, rain or fog -- a problem encountered by DASA when it first began looking at such technology using laser beams instead of video cameras. The panels can also be used to show additional information to aid ground handlers and pilots.

Although this was the first taste of the system for many US visitors, the VDGS has already enjoyed success elsewhere in the world. Beijing International Airport has ordered 36 individual systems for its new Capital airport project.

Each system will be connected by a central control unit to ensure efficient data interchange. An interface to the airport's Flight Information Display System (FIDS) provides information from the VDGS to other airport systems. The Beijing installation will go live at the end of this year, says Honeywell.

Elsewhere, Honeywell has also received orders for three units from Berlin Schonefeld, an order for 44 systems for the new Seoul Inchon airport -- a project that includes airfield lighting and general ASMGCS technology -- while units are already in operation in Hannover and Leipzig.

"The VDGS should help reduce the cost of such operations as marshalling," said Michael Berge, Product Manager, Docking Systems. "Normally the marshaller has to check 10 minutes before the aircraft is due to make sure that the gate is clear, but in this case the controller only has to switch the video image on and check for himself."

Honeywell is busy working out just what the opportunities are in the US, as well as what kind of issues they will face in a market which has a vastly different ramp handling set-up to many other parts of the world.

"Visitors have been very interested, but have expressed some concern over the `big brother' element of the video camera," added Berge. "They are also concerned over the reduction in the marshalling crews from a union point of view.

"However they also know that there are economies to having a system like this," he said. "The VDGS won't so much reduce staff as improve their efficiency and allow them to be used in other locations."


The arrival, and timing, of GSE Expo in late September has opened a genuine can of worms in exhibition land. All of a sudden, Inter Airport Atlanta has competition in North America, and bemused exhibitors have another show to work in to their annual budgets.

For many, the first reaction to the arrival of yet another show is one of horror. A new event may offer an alternative, but it also raises the spectre of cost. And as every major ground support equipment manufacturer knows, exhibitions do not come cheap. Stand space, shipping costs and road transport all add up, and for those already exhibiting at the four Inter Airport shows -- Frankfurt, Atlanta, Singapore and, now, Dubai -- another US event is the last thing they need.

But cost is the whole point, says Dixie Binning, Managing Editor at GSE Today, the magazine that organised the event. The show has been launched to help bring costs down for beleaguered manufacturers rather than add to them, she says.

"The launch was simply the result of complaints about the cost of Inter Airport," Binning told Airports International "And when Inter Airport went up to four shows around the world, we were asked whether we could come up with our own low-cost, focussed ground support equipment show."

And that's exactly what they did. The show, held in Las Vegas, saw more than 200 exhibitors, and welcomed just over 2,000 visitors (although this figure includes exhibitors). Booth space cost "half that of Atlanta", claims Binning.

The inaugural show was a largely North American affair, although the organisers are confident of attracting a more international audience in the future. Interestingly, though, there was plenty of overlap with Inter Airport `names' such as Par-Kan, Hobart, Tug, Scully, Global Ground Support and others in attendance.

According to Binning, many companies opted to dip their toes in the water for the first show by just taking a booth. However, several have suggested they will return next year with equipment and outdoor displays.

As Binning confirms, GSE Expo will run every October as an annual event. The final decision on the exact date and venue for next year has yet to be made, but it seems likely that the show will return to Las Vegas.

"The difficulty is that there will be two events for a while [in North America], but at some point people will have to make a choice," says Binning. "But it will take time for people to distinguish between the two and make a decision.

"However, we are magazine publishers first and foremost, and we do not intend to compete with Inter Airport as a show organiser. We will only run GSE Expo for as long as the industry feels it is worthwhile."

It was difficult to gauge how much of an impact the new arrival had on proceedings in Atlanta a month later. Exhibitor numbers were up, but visitor attendance down, and one or two companies preferred to spend money on providing their own entertainment for customers rather than attend the show. One major US manufacturer even transported a significant number of visitors down to its base in Florida for a look at its factory and to see John Glenn head for the stars once again.
COPYRIGHT 1998 Key Publishing Ltd.
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Publication:Airports International
Geographic Code:1U5GA
Date:Nov 1, 1998
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