People ponder what flies through the air when they think of the aviation industry. However, no jet airliner, prop plane, helicopter, or other airborne vehicle could function without a vast infrastructure based on the ground.
It gives new meaning to that phrase of wisdom: “As above, so below.”
Airplanes require daily ground services, from mechanical work and refueling to checking the fluid levels in support systems like hydraulic brakes. That’s just for starters.
Consider the many other functions that happen on the ground –- towing luggage from the terminal to the airplane with trailers & tractors; equipment to clear snow from runways; dollies for moving things around; boarding stairways for those planes that don’t use boarding walkways connected directly to airplane doors; container loaders; aircraft tripod jacks; buses; conveyor belts and hundreds more items.
All the equipment that supports the numerous tasks of keeping an airport ground operation running smoothly is called GSE by industry professionals. That, of course, stands for Ground Support Equipment.
GSE is a significant element of the aviation industry that it is categorized as a distinct business model. That is, there are dozens of companies that specialize in GSE. That’s all they do -– and they stay busy!
The GSE sector market value is more than $9.2 billion, according to the Verified Market Research firm. It is projected to grow to $14 billion by 2030. That’s a robust CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) of 5.78%.
In fact, the GSE industry is so vast and varied that some GSE firms specialize in supplying specific categories of GSE items. For example, let’s say an airline mechanic division manager is looking for a specific and preferred brand of hydraulic fluid called Skydrol LD4. He or she would likely source that from a firm specializing in aviation hydraulic fluids.
To get a handle on the scope of GSE providers, one can zoom out to a broader category, such as GSE items that meet the demands of the cargo and freight handling function of airport ground crews.
• Tugs and tractors
• Container loaders
Here is a short list of the types of cargo that are handled every day:
• Airmail and diplomatic mail
• Live animals, including items like hatching eggs.
• Human organs, human remains, and medical items.
• Perishable items like fresh foods (fruits, vegetables, meats), flowers, and dry ice.
• Non-perishable dry goods.
• Luxury consumer goods such as electronics, diamonds, currencies, gold bars, etc.
• High-tech equipment.
On a global scale, air cargo accounts for some $6.8 trillion worth of goods, which explains why cargo transportation generates 9% of all airline revenues.
By the way, it’s worth noting that cargo and freight are not necessarily the same thing, although they can be. By definition:
Cargo, by tradition, refers to goods that are shipped by sea or by airplane. Freight is more strictly defined as goods that are transported on the ground using trucks or trains.
So, one might conclude that the aviation sector only involves transporting cargo. But consider that air-ground crews may be taking items from or to ground transport systems (trucks & trains) and transporting them to be loaded on airplanes or vice versa.
In terms of the GSE industry, it can be said that GSE equipment is used for both cargo and freight.
The case can be made that tugs are the heart & soul of airline ground crew activity. Tugs handle any piece of equipment that cannot move itself. A major item is passenger luggage.
But wait a minute! Remember that supply of hydraulic fluid mentioned above? Without high-quality hydraulic fluid to service critical parts that include breaks, shock absorbers, gearboxes and more, no plane is fit for flight.
GSE Large and Small Make Aviation Possible
The bottom line is that airplanes and airports need large units of expensive equipment like tugs. However, the flying business can’t get done without a few gallons of hydraulic fluid.
It’s all GSE and all good –- and necessary.