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Cleared for Takeoff: Supercharging Airside Equipment Electrification with the IP54-Rated Series-S Track Busway

The aviation industry is soaring toward a greener future, fueled by a pressing need to reduce its carbon footprint and adapt to stringent emissions regulations. At the forefront of this transformation is the trend towards airside equipment electrification, which offers airports a runway to cleaner, more sustainable operations. However, as airport facilities managers chart this course, they encounter challenges rooted in their existing electrical systems and power distribution infrastructure. In this blog, we explore how track busway systems, especially Starline’s IP54-rated Series-S, emerge as a powerful solution to help overcome hurdles and usher in a new era of airside equipment electrification.

Towards Greater Airside Equipment Electrification

Put simply, airside equipment electrification involves transitioning from conventional fossil fuel-powered equipment to electrically powered alternatives on the airside of airports. The airside of an airport includes the aprons, taxiways, runways, and other areas involved in handling arriving and departing aircraft. As Aviation Pros notes, this covers ground support vehicles, baggage handling systems and aircraft tugs. This trend is driven by several factors, including environmental concerns, regulatory pressures (especially around noise pollution), and the potential for cost savings. Let’s break this down further:

  1. Environmental Concerns: Airports and the aviation industry are under increasing pressure to reduce their carbon footprint and minimize emissions. In this regard, the World Economic Forum, in partnership with Airports Council International (ACI) World, is working on an initiative called Airports of Tomorrow. This groundbreaking collaboration seeks to “address the energy, infrastructure and financing needs of the aviation industry’s transition to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.” The electrification of airside equipment will play a crucial role in achieving these goals by replacing traditional fuel-powered equipment with electric alternatives that produce little to no direct emissions.
  2. Technological Advancements: Advances in battery technology and electric motor efficiency are making it feasible to develop electric versions of various airside equipment, giving airports an edge as they strive towards a more sustainable future.
  3. Regulatory Pressures: Many governments and international organizations are implementing stricter emissions regulations, sustainability targets and noise pollution limits for airports and airlines. Though the U.S. has some EPA-mandated regulations on greenhouse gas emissions from commercial aircraft, some think tanks are arguing for more regulations to improve airport resiliency and sustainability in the face of increased sea levels and extreme weather risks. Across the Atlantic Ocean, the European Union has recently agreed to a new regulation for the deployment of alternative fuels infrastructure (AFIR). Under this regulation, airports will face mandatory deployment targets for electric supply to stationary aircraft at all gates by 2025 and all remote stands by 2030. Even India has plans to make 121 airports carbon neutral by 2025. Airside equipment electrification aligns with these regulations and will help airports meet their environmental responsibilities.
  4. Cost Savings: Electric equipment generally has lower operating and maintenance costs compared to traditional fuel-powered machinery. While the initial investment might be higher, the long-term savings can be significant, especially as the cost of batteries and other associated components continues to decrease.

While multiple reasons and incentives exist for airport facility managers to pursue airside equipment electrification, a substantial roadblock lies in their way – the constraints and challenges posed by their existing electrical systems and power distribution infrastructure. Here, track busway systems, specifically IP54-rated ones like Starline’s Series-S, emerge as a potent solution, helping airport facility managers overcome hurdles and usher in a new era of electrification. 

Challenges with Existing Airport Infrastructure

Airport electrical systems are often complex webs of power distribution networks built to accommodate the demands of the past. Adapting these systems to the modern, power-hungry needs of electric airside equipment is, in some ways, akin to trying a landing in windshear and high crosswinds: quite difficult. 

On one hand, an airport’s existing infrastructure might lack the flexibility to be modified easily, resulting in high retrofitting costs and associated downtime, especially if pipe and wire or busduct solutions were heavily used and airport facility managers plan on using more. As Aviation Pros further notes, “electrifying airside equipment requires robust power infrastructure to supply the necessary electricity. Airports need to assess and upgrade their electrical distribution systems to accommodate the increased demand for power.”

Another challenge facing airport facility managers has to do with integrating additional charging stations on legacy infrastructure. Aviation experts further say that strategic installation of charging stations around gates and in maintenance areas and baggage handling facilities will be paramount to reimagining airside operations. However, trying to add charging stations to existing infrastructure (without the proper upgrades) could lead to grid instability, disrupting not only airside operations but also the overall airport functionality.

As you can see, the challenge revolves around how best to upgrade an airport’s existing power distribution infrastructure in a way that minimizes costs while maximizing adaptability, versatility and time to deployment – all within very saturated and relatively inflexible spaces.

How the Starline IP54-rated Series-S Track Busway Helps 

When it comes to airside equipment electrification, the track busway system emerges as an ingenious solution that addresses the core challenges faced by airport facilities managers. A track busway system is a streamlined, flexible, and robust power distribution solution that eliminates the need for complex and costly pipe and wire or busduct installations. It offers a modular, plug-and-play approach to power distribution, enabling rapid and scalable expansion as airside electrification gains momentum. Let’s briefly go into more detail about how this works.

At Starline, our modular system consists of a U-shaped aluminum shell with copper or aluminum bus bars mounted along the interior wall and a continuous access slot, or “open channel,” along the bottom for inserting plug-in units. Straight sections are the main busways that deliver power to equipment and other areas within an airport. These typically come in lengths of 5, 10 or 20 feet, enabling airport facility managers to make significant distance jumps from an airport’s electrical grid system out to various airside locations. Elbows join two straight sections with a horizontal 90-degree turn on a busway run. Tee sections connect three straight sections in a 90-degree branch leg on a busway run. 

Power feed units, normally placed at the beginning of a busway run, supply power from a panel board or other source. Our system’s plug-in units integrate circuit breakers and the electrical outlets that supply power to various locations (and equipment) airside. The upper paddle of a plug-in unit is inserted into the open channel at the bottom of the track busway. The unit is then locked into place to connect the electrical busbars mounted inside the busway section. At this point, airside equipment can be plugged into the unit.

As you can probably tell, this type of power distribution technology holds massive potential for amplifying each airport facility manager’s initiative to electrify airside equipment. Consider this: Starline’s track busway technology has multiple mounting options with all the necessary components of a complete electrical distribution system (breakers, connectors, power outlets, metering, surge protection, etc.) incorporated into the plug-in units. As a result, airport operations teams gain a huge advantage in being able to bring power easily and cost-effectively to their equipment whether at the gate or to charging stations located in different areas around the airport. While it may be impossible for an airport facility manager to completely avoid new construction related to power infrastructure upgrades, Starline’s track busway technology can minimize this need and, for example, speed deployment of new charging stations. With its inbuilt flexibility, the Series-S track busway also makes it easier down the line for facility managers to make changes to accommodate future needs.

That said, it’s important to acknowledge that airside operations do not occur within carefully sealed, immaculate environments. Electrical airside equipment and the power distribution infrastructure it relies on will regularly encounter dust, debris and water splashes. Fortunately, the Series-S’ IP54 rating is well-suited to many aspects of airside operations. This rating means that the Series-S can perform well in both indoor and outdoor environments that are wet, require sprinkler systems, are dusty or may have debris. This makes them ideal for solving power distribution challenges around the airport as facility managers focus on greater electrification of their daily operations.

There’s a lot more to be said about the benefits of the IP54-rated Series-S in relation to airside equipment electrification. For that, we invite you to talk to any of our experts – they’d be happy to answer any questions you may have. If there’s one thing that’s for sure, airport power distribution infrastructure is evolving faster than before. And, at Starline, we can definitely help you take off on your journey.