Ground Power Upgrades in the Works at Newark Int’l

Ground Power Upgrades in the Works at Newark Int’l
Jodi Richards
Published in: 

Change is happening on the tarmac at Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) as United Airlines decentralizes its aging ground power systems in favor of new point-of-use ground power units (GPUs). The move is designed to improve the efficiency of ramp operations by providing more flexibility, reliability and redundancy. 

“The existing centralized systems weren’t working well for us, and we felt the point-of-use was a much better support structure,” says Andrew Alexander, the airline’s senior manager of facilities engineering and fleet strategy. 

The transition is occurring in concourses 1 and 2 of Terminal C, where most of United’s EWR flights arrive/depart. Overall, the New Jersey airport is one of the carrier’s most compact hub operations. COVID-19 dip aside, it’s also usually very busy. Last year, the airport served more than 46 million total passengers, breaking its previous record.


Project: Point-of-use Ground Power

Location: Newark (NJ) Liberty Int’l Airport

Terminal: C

Project Owner: United Airlines

Scope: 54 of 67 total gates completed

Ground Power Units: ITW GSE 2400

Timeline: Phased delivery & installation, beginning in 2015

Of Note: Electrical infrastructure needed to be upgraded to facilitate transition from centralized ground power system

“It’s a very small area and there’s a lot of activity in the region with Newark, JFK and LaGuardia,” explains Alexander. “We pack them in there from early morning to late at night.” 

Ongoing fleet changes and updates prompted the legacy carrier to rethink its ground power arrangements at EWR. The addition of Boeing 787s, which require a specific type of ground power, was a particular driver; but United also needed a system that could serve its diverse fleet, which ranges from Embraer 145s up to Boeing 787s. 

Alexander notes that flexibility is critical at all the airports United serves, not just EWR. As a result, he and his team work closely with the carrier’s corporate real estate group to determine what type of ground power is needed at various locations.  

Central System Challenges

United initially explored the possibility of installing a new centralized system at EWR, but that strategy did not prove to be cost effective. “It would require a great deal of upgrading,” Alexander explains. “And by the time you upgrade it, the aircraft fleet may change again, and then the system is obsolete.” 

One of the major challenges with centralized power is that if the system goes down, it simultaneously affects multiple gates. At EWR, United would sometimes lose ground power at half of its Terminal C gates. Not surprisingly, redundancy and reliability were huge factors when the project team explored other options. The new ground power arrangement also needed to integrate with the airline’s building management system that monitors the equipment.  

Ultimately, United contracted with ITW GSE to deliver and install 44 of the manufacturer’s model 2400 GPUs under an initial contract. Doron Milbaum, a regional sales manager for the company, describes the 400 Hz point-of-use units as compact, user-friendly, reliable and robust. He also highlights their “plug-and-play” ease and notes that airport/airline personnel can update the system or add new capabilities by transferring the company’s latest software from a USB stick or flash drive. 

Users can also gather service log files and maintenance data for analysis to ensure efficient operation and effective asset management. ITW GSE units include access portals that allow operators to monitor the GPUs from a control center, notes Milbaum. 

In addition, he notes that the 2400 model is smaller than conventional GPUs, consumes less power because it only draws what each specific aircraft needs, and includes an intuitive user interface. Despite such features, Milbaum considers 99% reliability the unit’s biggest advantage. 

Infrastructure Upgrades

The transition from centralized ground power to new point-of-use units began in late 2015 and is expected to continue to year 2021. Due to the age of the existing facilities (about 30 years), electrical infrastructure upgrades were needed to support the new point-of-use equipment. “There’s a lot behind it,” Alexander comments. “In most cases, the infrastructure costs more than the hardware you’re buying.” 

Phasing the infrastructure upgrades and deployment of new GPUs was especially critical before the current pandemic dramatically slowed flight activity at the busy airport. Milbaum considers the entire effort a partnership with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns and operates EWR. 

The majority of work is scheduled overnight to minimize the impact on ramp traffic and aircraft operations. Occasionally, however, work runs into the morning hours, and temporary gate closures have been necessary. “It’s tricky,” Alexander acknowledges. “Best case scenario, your infrastructure upgrades are going on while the operation is working; and once you get everything where you need it to be, you down the gate overnight, remove the old unit, install the new unit and power it up, which takes at least 20 hours before it’s ready to operate.” 

The changeover process could be completed in less time if the entire terminal was shut down, but that’s impractical at EWR, he adds. 

Naturally, the newer equipment is more sophisticated, with touchpad controls rather than buttons and levers. “There is a bit of a learning curve that goes along with it, but we have a pretty robust training system,” says Alexander. The airline is using the initial instruction ITW GSE provides during start-up and commissioning to develop its own training program for use after the transition is complete.  

The deployment is ongoing, as United plans to transition all 67 of its C Terminal gates at EWR to point-of-use. 

Ground Support

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