Inductive Charging for Electric Shuttles

Inductive Charging for Electric Shuttles
Kristen Rindfleisch
Published in: 

With economy parking located about two miles from its main campus, Kansas City International Airport (MCI) has always tried to have leading-edge buses to shuttle passengers to and from the terminal. It’s currently making a major step forward in that effort by transitioning to all electric buses and a wireless charging system.

Currently, MCI’s fleet for economy parking has seven electric buses and 24 that run on compressed natural gas. Airport personnel note that the fully electric buses cost less to operate because there are no expenses for fuel, oil and transmission fluid. In addition, the electric vehicles are more energy-efficient, produce fewer emissions and require less repair/maintenance work compared to buses with diesel engines. New wireless charging also eliminates previous concerns about range. Based on the many advantages and a positive track record with its initial electric shuttle vehicles, MCI is transitioning to an all-electric fleet as its other buses age out.

In 2017, MCI was the first U.S. airport to integrate fully electric shuttles for passenger service. It embraced the green technology by purchasing four 30-foot electric coaches from BYD North America, custom built with luggage racks and other features specifically for airport service. Each K7M model seats 20 passengers, has a range of up to 150 miles and can be fully charged in two and one-half to three hours. In 2020, three additional electric buses were added to MCI’s evolving fleet.


Project: Electric Bus Service

Location: Kansas City Int’l Airport

Route: Shuttling passengers between terminal & remote economy parking lot

Equipment: K7M electric buses; in-ground inductive chargers

Bus Manufacturer: 
BYD North America

Charging Pads: InductEV (formerly Momentum Dynamics)

Costs: $577,000 for inductive charging system (including labor); $585,000 to retrofit 7 current buses for inductive charging (future buses will come with system already installed); $220,000 for plug-in charger infrastructure; local utility covered expenses to bring in new feed from nearby sub-station, install transformer, etc.

Funding: Airport revenue; U.S. Dept. of Energy grant

Timeline: Airport purchased 4 electric shuttles in 2017, added 3 more in 2020, then 7 more in 2022 for delivery in 2024. Inductive charging pads installed in 2023.

Key Benefits: Fewer emissions & more energy efficient; less repair/maintenance; lower operating costs; wireless charging eliminates previous concerns about range; quiet, fume-free ride for customers

Of Note: MCI was first U.S. airport to integrate fully electric buses for passenger service; likely first airport in the world to use inductive charging for shuttles 

Late last year, the Kansas City Aviation Department literally doubled down on its strategy and purchased seven more electric buses for about $4.8 million. Airport revenues covered more than $3 million of the expense; MCI also received a $732,800 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy executed via a contract with the Metropolitan Energy Center, a local environmental non-profit organization.

Looking ahead, the airport has ordered seven additional electric buses from BYD for delivery in March 2024. “We’ve been really happy with the performance of those vehicles so far,” reports Justin Meyer, deputy director of Aviation – Marketing and Air Service Development.

By the Numbers

Jason Yan, director of sales operations for BYD North America, explains that electric buses are more expensive to purchase but typically cost much less to operate than other options based on older technology. Specifically, he notes that an average 30-foot diesel transit bus costs about $450,000, compared with $680,000 for a 30-foot electric bus. For operating expenses, Yan shares annual data from a customer that operates 60 electric buses. Its average energy cost is $0.19 kilowatt hours per mile, vs. an average cost of $3.02 per gallon for diesel fuel over the same year. Total maintenance savings for the same client is about $283,034 per month.

During construction of MCI’s new terminal, the Kansas City Aviation Department contracted InductEV (formerly Momentum Dynamics) to provide a wireless charging system for its electric shuttles and work with the general contractor and electrical contractor to coordinate the installation. The system includes two 300-kilowatt charging pads imbedded in the pavement where the buses queue for passenger loading and unloading at the terminal. The inductive system will provide incremental charging to the electric shuttle buses at stops along the commercial curb, keeping them in service longer as they travel the seven-mile round-trip loop to and from the terminal. InductEV anticipates the two chargers will be able to support the full 28-bus fleet once all are electric. “The automatic, frequent charges throughout the day allow for smaller batteries, fewer spare vehicles and smoother fleet operations,” says Tony Calabro, chief product officer at InductEV. “Instead of worrying about chargers, plugs and having vehicles down, you just drive the vehicle through its normal operations, and when it’s parked it can charge.”

“The intent is that a bus could run an entire driver’s shift without ever needing to come out of service to be recharged,” Meyer explains.

Currently, project partners are procuring components for the buses that will allow them to charge while positioned over the in-concrete pads. When the system is up and running, Meyer believes that MCI will be the first airport in the world to use inductive charging for passenger shuttles.

Advice for Others

Project designers learned a significant lesson when adding the wireless charging system. The inductive charging pads were installed in the curb area where MCI’s economy lot buses park, an area also shared by shuttles for the consolidated rental car facility. Typically, airports strive for flexibility at their curbs, but placing the charging pads into the concrete makes that bus queue location more permanent.

Choosing where to place the pads early in the planning process “kind of forced our hand a little bit in terms of how the commercial curb was going to operate,” Meyer explains. He cautions other airports to consider various uses for the curb, including possible future changes, when adding inductive charging pads. It would be ideal to space the pads out to allow enough room for buses to pull in and out, so if a bus is using the rear pad, another bus can pull into the open pad in front.

Yan emphasizes that transitioning to electric buses definitely improves the transit experience for airport customers. “It’s quieter and smoother, with no smelly exhaust fumes,” he remarks. “Electric buses also help airports fulfill long-term sustainability goals inspired by stakeholders asking them to become more eco-friendly.”

Calabro emphasizes that electric buses and inductive charging aren’t just science fiction anymore. “Our system is real, it’s here and it’s keeping fleets going,” he remarks. “There’s a good chance wireless could make it cheaper and easier to electrify your fleet, and simpler to operate once you do.”

Beyond Buses

In addition to transitioning MCI’s economy parking shuttles to electric power, the Kansas City Aviation Department is working with its airlines to move ground support equipment in the same direction. The airport’s use and lease agreement provides a phased timeline for having a portion of airline ground support equipment electric in the future.

“We’re more comprehensively trying to push not only ourselves but also our partners into the less fossil fuel-dependent modes of operation,” Meyer remarks.

Not surprisingly, InductEV is also gearing up for that transition with wireless charging systems for ground support functions and equipment.

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