Every airport, from the largest international to the smallest regional, needs ground service equipment to support and operate fleets of aircraft flying in and out of it. Ground service equipment needs to be regulated, however, so that crews always know what they are dealing with, no matter where in the world they are. Over four decades, standards for GSE have evolved, culminating in the international standards that are applied worldwide.
The ISO TC20/SC9, air cargo and ground equipment subcommittee was started in the late 1960s to define the standards for the new and developing types of GSE needed to service new wide-body commercial aircraft like the Boeing 747. This task is never truly completed, as there are always new generations of aircraft with new generations of ground service equipment accompanying them. Over the years, the ISO TC20/SC9 has had to respond to containers and aircraft towing, the introduction of regional commercial aircraft, and even the enormous A380 produced by Airbus, the first aircraft with full length double-deck.
Significant market changes have occurred over the years as well. Sub-contracting has led to more and more service providers, while airlines have dropped their own specifications for purchasing equipment and begun to buy off-the-shelf equipment instead. This has forced ISO standards to be applied at the design stage by equipment manufacturers instead. Airborne equipment like unit load devices have needed to be regulated to ensure they comply with civil aviation regulations, while ground service equipment TC20/SC9 standards have had to be expressed in terms of function and performance requirements to leave the wide variety of technical designs open.
Recent TC20/SC9 projects have involved the advances in aircraft de-icing technologies, replacing forty year old criteria used to certify air cargo ULDs with a more streamlined and modernized document, and updating the regulations and standards for baggage handling to improve the health and safety of workers involved. This last example is part of a major trend recently of trying to improve human resources and reducing the overall cost to operators, which are heavily burdened by the cost of work accidents and professional disabilities. Work interruptions, early retirements due to disability, and health insurance costs can be ruinously expensive for both workers and employers, a cost that can be lowered with proper regulations and standards.
Future challenges that the TC20/SC9 program might face include performance standards for passive and active aircraft interface protection systems that shield aircraft from damage from GSE due to collisions, better ground electrical supply requirements, improved function and safety requirements for aircraft bulk loading systems (ABLS), higher standards for safety in dispatch towing, and more.
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