E-mobility at Frankfurt Airport: Upward Trend

Even though research and development work is in full swing worldwide, larger, electrically powered commercial aircraft remain a vision. On the apron of some airports, however, things are looking much better for e-mobility. Here, locally emission-free engines have long been proving their worth.
Take Frankfurt Airport, for example, where, the operator Fraport alone now uses around 500 electrically powered special vehicles for aircraft handling. Fraport has launched the E-PORT AN electromobility initiative in collaboration with the Lufthansa Group, the Federal State of Hesse, and the Rhine-Main Electromobility Model Region’s Project Management Center. Within this initiative, the partners are pursuing the goal of significantly reducing ground emissions from all aspects of aircraft handling in the long term. To this end, various electromobile technologies and processes are being developed in individual projects, tested in everyday life and monitored by researchers.

The latest example is two electric buses from Wiesbaden-based airport bus specialist Cobus Industries GmbH, sponsored by the Federal State of Hesse, which now take passengers across the Frankfurt airport apron to the aircraft. The buses produce no local emissions and are especially quiet.

Building on the successful completion of its sponsorship of the “E-Fleet operated by Fraport” project, Fraport AG is consistently pursuing its electrification strategy with the successive procurement of new types of vehicles. These include battery-powered passenger staircases, baggage tractors, container lift trucks and ground power units for aircraft in outlying positions. A feasibility study showed that more than half of Fraport AG’s fleet of approximately 3,000 vehicles can be converted to alternative propulsion systems by 2030. This would make it possible to avoid more than 20,000 tons of CO2 emissions. For Fraport, electrifying its fleet is therefore a particularly important aspect of achieving its own climate protection goal, which is to reduce CO2 emissions by approximately 65 percent to 80,000 metric tons of CO2 in 2030 compared to the base year 1990.

As well as being environmentally friendly, the electric vehicles have a number of other advantages, especially when used on the apron. The “stop and go” operations common here and the maximum permitted speed of 30 kilometers per hour present some classic combustion engines with thermal problems, but the energy and maintenance costs for many electric vehicles are lower than for conventionally powered vehicles. For this reason, there are already economic efficiencies to be made in the product life cycle of certain types of vehicles, such as conveyor belt loaders. And last but not least, e-mobility noticeably improves working conditions on the apron, so acceptance is also high among employees.

Fraport’s electric fleet at Frankfurt Airport

container lift trucks

conveyor belt loaders


passenger stairs

electric tow tractors

container pallet transporter

plug-in hybrid cars

purely battery-powered electric cars


small electric tow tractors

pallet lifters

electric forklift trucks

electric vehicles for disabled transport

electric minibuses

Since the electric vehicles only have to cover relatively short distances on the Fraport site, there is no range problem. The frequent downtimes during operation allow for interim recharging, especially since the airport already has a comprehensive charging infrastructure. The vehicles can be charged for longer during the night hours at the latest, when flight operations are suspended.

Incidentally, Fraport is not the only operator of electrically powered ground support equipment vehicles at Germany’s largest airport. The Lufthansa subsidiary LEOS, a provider of ground handling services at major German airports, now uses two electric tow tractors here. These ensure that wide-bodied aircraft such as the Airbus A380 and Boeing 747 can be moved in an environmentally friendly way. The newest of the two models has been in operation for almost two years and was developed by the Swedish company Kalmar Motor AB. The electric drive with its 700 kilowatts ensures that even the largest passenger aircraft can be towed and pushed back to their parking positions, to the dockyard, to the gate or on the taxiway without harm to the environment. The maximum take-off weight of the aircraft is 600 tons – 15 times the weight of its own tow tractor.

According to Lufthansa LEOS, using an electric tow tractor compared to a conventional, diesel-powered one can reduce emissions by up to 75 percent. The noise level is also significantly lower. The vehicle is equipped with all-wheel drive and all-wheel steering, so that despite its 9.70 meter length and 4.50 meter width, it is easy to maneuver, even in the somewhat limited space of the maintenance hangars. The lithium-ion batteries have a capacity of 180 kilowatt hours. This is roughly five to six times the capacity of a standard electric car. If necessary, the batteries can also be recharged during operation using an integrated diesel engine, the Range Extender. The diesel unit thus fulfils a back-up function, ensuring that the upcoming assignments can always be carried out. Incidentally, the LEOS electric tow tractor is also part of the Frankfurt initiative E-PORT AN.
Text by Behrend Oldenburg
Photos: Lufthansa LEOS, Fraport
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