The importance of Aircraft Safe Docking Systems

With the increased use of composite materials in aircraft, it’s becoming even more critical for Ground Support Equipment (GSE) to be equipped with damage protection systems.

Modern Aircraft Construction Materials

Modern aircraft airframe designs such as the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 make greater use of composite materials in their airframes and primary structures than any previous commercial airplane designs.

The result is an airframe comprising nearly half carbon fibre reinforced plastic and other composites. This approach offers weight savings on average of 20 percent compared to more conventional aluminium airframe designs.

The expanded use of composites, especially in the highly tension-loaded environment of the fuselage, greatly reduces maintenance due to fatigue when compared with an aluminium structure.

airbus material composition
Figure 1 Materials used in a modern aircraft, the Airbus A350 XWB [5]

Carbon Fibre Hidden Damage

Reporting of damage or any form of contact with the aircraft is critical as damage may not be visually detected as easily as on an aluminium aircraft. Although there may not be visible damage externally, there is a possibility of delaminating occurring internally.

Any contact with the aircraft, no matter how small and any marks or paint damage, MUST be reported immediately in order to have qualified engineers assess the damage using specialist testing equipment.

Ground Support Equipment (GSE) Design

The IATA Airport Handling Manual (AHM) now specifies that aircraft interfacing ground support equipment is designed with modern composite airframes in mind. Some of these requirements include a means of automatically slowing the final approach speed of ground support when nearing an aircraft, and sensitive bumpers that will bring the equipment to an immediate stop if actual contact with the aircraft is detected.

TLD Aircraft Safe Docking (ASD) System

To meets the requirements of the IATA AHM, TLD have designed and implemented the ASD system across the full range of their aircraft interfacing ground support equipment.

The ASD system is based on a front mounted 3D camera system that detects the equipment’s distance from the aircraft. The system is able to interpret the distance from the aircraft to gradually limit the speed of the vehicle to 0.7 km/h when at 2 meters from the aircraft.

Sensitive bumpers at the front and optionally on the handrails of the vehicle are present as a last resort to stop the vehicle upon a soft impact.

In the event of an aircraft impact with a handrail or the proximity sensors inside the sensitive bumper of the equipment will immediately trigger the parking brake. No forward movement is allowed until the equipment has reversed back a predefined distance, and an event recording keeps trace of each aircraft hit.

The ASD system can also be specified with a consignment key option that completely blocks all machine movements until a key switch is activated by a ramp manager or aircraft engineer. This option prevents “hit and run” events and ensures that the aircraft is inspected for damage by a qualified engineer before the aircraft is released for flight.

ASD inside logo


ASD, through its supervision, is making operators fully responsible while more controlled and managed, because while in the aircraft area, the ASD is monitoring the environment and ensures that operators never drive too fast or too close to potential causes of impacts. ASD also acts as a black box, recording all events, including the conditions of the GSE during, before and after the event, so operators know that ramp managers will know their operational behaviour as well!

View the range of Mobile Ground Support Equipment that can be fitted with ASD.