TREPEL Airport Equipment utilizes SICK’s Aircraft Protection System object detection system to improve operations and reduce the risk of collisions on the runway

Schedules are tight. The apron is crowded. And tractor drivers are constantly moving a wide range of aircrafts. Today’s airports are a challenging setting for tractor drivers who maneuver airplanes across aprons, needing to always be aware that even a minor collision could lead to an extremely costly event. To effectively deal with these challenges, TREPEL Airport Equipment GmbH has come to rely on the APS (Aircraft Protection System) object detection system from SICK.

Although airplanes can move around on the ground using their wheels like other vehicles, safety precautions dictate that they generally rely on tractors to reverse into a parking spot. This is known as a pushback procedure, and it’s a difficult job that requires a lot of concentration. The people that maneuver the planes in and out of docking positions must contend with all kinds of objects on the aprons around the terminals and hangars. From having to navigate around airport infrastructure buildings, to keeping an eye on the buses, cars, trucks, and unit loading devices and even other planes in the vicinity. And each time, these drivers move a different kind and size of plane.

A driver assistance system that warns the driver of possible hazards needs to be highly reliable. It needs to be flexible, always considering not only the different kinds of hazards, but also the different sizes and shapes of the planes being pulled, pushed, and maneuvered. Given the size of planes, it also needs to reliably scan a very large area. There is no room for error here.

From APS to TAPS

The APS (Aircraft Protection System) object detection system by SICK helps drivers of aircraft tractors move aircraft safely. It reduces the risk of collisions and accidents and can thus avoid high repair and breakdown costs as well as downtime.

TREPEL, a global manufacturer of airport ground vehicles, collaborated closely with the engineers at SICK, to develop a customized version of the Aircraft Protection System (TAPS) that they could integrate into aircraft tractors. This version of TAPS monitors oversteer of the aircraft and alerts the operator where needed, and it comes standard with the CHARGER 380, a towbarless tractor that is the most powerful and capable in its class. The CHARGER 380 is the ideal workhorse for airlines and airports as well as ground handling companies. It can easily and reliably handle the largest aircraft types, such as the B777 and A330, and it is perfect for long-distance towing and inter-gate servicing.

Moving large, heavy loads safely and without blind spots

A towbarless tractor such as the CHARGER 380 scoops up the nose wheel of the aircraft so that its entire weight rests on the center of the tractor, giving the driver full control of the aircraft. The responsibility for the safe maneuvering of the aircraft is completely in the driver’s hands, making a reliable driver support systems so vital. The TAPS system uses a SICK LiDAR sensor to scan the entire area under – and around – the aircraft, ensuring that even the driver’s blind spots are fully covered.

SICK and TREPEL engineers worked together to the develop the TAPS system. When a CHARGER 380 scoops up the nose wheel of an airplane, the TAPS system determines the landing gear geometry. With this information and its built-in database, it then suggests several possible plane types to the driver. The driver selects the correct one from the list on the display and confirms the selection. The system is now able to make exceedingly precise calculations on how close the aircraft is to objects in the surrounding area, giving the driver highly reliable warnings of possible danger zones. This reduces the pressure on the drivers and lets them concentrate on the actual maneuvering.

The system also delivers many other advantages. Based on information delivered by the LiDAR sensor, TAPS calculates the nose-wheel angle to a highly precise degree and supports the operator during maneuvering to avoid exceeding the maximum allowed value. This system function avoids oversteering the nose-wheel, which can lead to delays while essential checks are made to ensure that the nose-wheel has not been damaged. TAPS guarantees a safe and punctual operation. And during maneuver towing, operators can rely on a situationally adaptive warning strategy, as well as an automated fault detection and targeted maintenance – all made possible thanks to the system’s self-diagnosis capability.

Close partnership magnifies great product value

All of this is possible due to the excellent collaboration between TREPEL and SICK. “There were continuous improvements thanks to the excellent way in which the engineers at SICK reacted to the feedback we gave them,” says David Bellavance, Research & Development Manager Towbarless Aircraft Tractors at TREPEL Airport Equipment GmbH. “This intense level of cooperation allowed us to continuously optimize the system in terms of its functions, the menus and even visually.”

SICK’s APS system has proved itself to be highly precise and reliable in many different settings, and the quality of SICK sensors is undisputed. In the end, it is SICK’s desire to work closely with their customers, to listen to their needs and their experience that makes the decisive difference.

Want to learn more about our airport solutions? Contact a SICK representative today!