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Increasing the Safety of Aviation Ground Support

UL 5840, the Standard for Electrical Systems of Battery Powered Aviation Ground Support Equipment, addresses risks to fire, electrical shock and explosion.

Worker taking notes at airfield while colleague sits in tug cab

Looking to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and meet increased environmental requirements, airlines and airports are replacing diesel-fueled ground support equipment (GSE) with lithium-ion (lithium) powered machines. Airports worldwide have announced policy commitments to remove all diesel-powered vehicles from the apron and airside over the next three decades. While eliminating carbon emissions, these changes also significantly reduce diesel fuel costs and the costs of maintaining internal combustion engines. Ground personnel health risks are reduced by eliminating CO2 emissions and noise from internal combustion engines.

With Lithium-Ion Battery Benefits Come Safety Risks

Although lithium battery-powered vehicles offer many benefits, this new and evolving technology presents some risks. Recognizing the current and increasing need for safety requirements, UL Solutions recently launched a new service for evaluating lithium battery-powered aviation GSE. UL 5840, the Standard for Electrical Systems of Battery Powered Aviation Ground Support Equipment, provides requirements that address the risk of fire, electric shock and explosion for the electrical systems of battery-powered airport GSE.

A widespread agreement among managers of dangerous goods and ground support teams in the aviation industry is that prevention is the most effective method of increasing safety. We can provide testing and certification services for UL 5840, which can help mitigate potential issues related to the use, installation and maintenance of lithium batteries in GSE vehicles, including:

  • Tugs
  • Tractors
  • Pushbacks
  • Firefighting equipment
  • Freight carts
  • Container loaders
  • Belt loaders
  • Refuelers
  • Food and water
  • Ground power units
  • Passenger boarding stairs
  • De/anti-icing vehicles

Key players across the aviation industry support the development of these safety standards as they work to transform their existing ground support equipment into more energy-efficient electric vehicles. For example, the Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA) has been awarded $640,000 in grant funding by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), enabling the CDA and United Airlines to invest a total of $1.43 million to purchase 26 new zero-emission GSE vehicles. United Airlines will save more than 1.4 million gallons of diesel fuel and reduce emissions of CO2, the primary air pollutant in the generation of greenhouse gases, by more than 16,000 tons (as well as other byproducts of fuel emissions).

GSE Lithium Battery Retrofit

Some aviation GSE is already electrified with lead-acid batteries. However, lithium batteries are significantly lighter, smaller and superior to lead-acid in energy storage and physical space. For these reasons, the aviation industry is retrofitting its current lead-acid-powered GSE fleets with lithium batteries.

The aviation industry is especially concerned about the safety of lithium retrofit batteries since this portion of the industry is not closely regulated. To address this concern, the UL 5840 Standard contains the retrofitting of lithium batteries into more traditional diesel-powered and lead-acid-powered equipment.

Airport Maintenance and Operations

Compared to lead-acid batteries, lithium batteries require no maintenance except for charging. Most airline operations facilities are already equipped with charging equipment due to the prevalence of lead-acid powered GSE in their fleet inventory. We can assess lithium battery chargers, new battery charging stations and their facilities for compliance with safety requirements and for risk of fire, electric shock and explosions.

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Powering Aviation Ground Support Equipment with Lithium Batteries

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