Jul 01, 2023

Tugs, tractors and belt loaders nearly all electric at two Delta hubs

DOWNLOAD VIDEO | Delta's ground operation in Salt Lake City hums with electric power

B-ROLL | Delta's eGSE at SLC

The airport ramp – where planes park and are serviced between flights – hums with activity. Delta people move in orchestration to load baggage and cargo and prepare each jet for its next safe journey. It's an exciting, fast-moving place. But listen closely, and you’ll hear the soft whirl of an electric motor – the sound of innovation and investment in a more sustainable future, today.

Delta's core* ground support equipment (GSE) fleet needed to turn aircraft at Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) is nearing 100% electric. Once fossil fuel-powered belt loaders, bag and push-back tractors are now propelled by electricity and feature “zero-emission vehicle” green leaf decals. Delta's Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) operation is nearly all-electric, too.

"Flying represents about 98% of Delta’s carbon emissions, and while we continue work to drastically reduce that impact – Delta saved more than 10 million gallons of fuel in 2022 alone – we are working throughout our business to embed sustainability in everything we do," Delta Chief Sustainability Officer Pam Fletcher said. "There is no shortage of short-term progress we’re investing in to reduce our footprint.”

The GSE transition reflects Delta’s more than $385 million investment in electrified Ground Service Equipment (eGSE) and airport charging infrastructure between 2020 and 2024. In 2022 alone, Delta retired and replaced over 650 pieces of equipment with eGSE on a journey with the following aspirational ground operations milestones:

While fossil fuel-powered GSE accounts for less than 0.5% of Delta's total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the impact of electrification for Delta people and local communities can be linked to improved air quality, less hazardous waste and lower noise pollution. Likewise, Erik Snell, SVP of Airport Customer Service, Cargo Ops, GSE, and Global Clean commented on the enhanced safety benefits:

“Without safety, nothing else matters,” he said. “Transitioning to eGSE at Delta has meant welcoming more safety features like backup cameras, collision avoidance systems, and battery health monitoring systems that support our culture of safety while advancing our sustainability work.”

Delta’s eGSE efforts extend to its hubs in Atlanta (ATL), Los Angeles (LAX), Seattle (SEA), Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP), New York (LGA; JFK) and many smaller airports where Delta flies. The global airline also introduced the first fully electric high-lift truck at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS) earlier this year as part of its efforts to extend sustainability learnings beyond borders.

Delta Sustainability Manager Chad Bednar commented on why nearing 100% eGSE in an environment like Salt Lake City is so important to Delta’s progress. “The people in Salt Lake City are spearheading our effort to say: ‘Yes, we can go to fully electric ground support equipment in a truly four-season environment. So, they’re really proving out the strategy that we’ll use as a template as we expand to other airports.”

In Salt Lake City, Ramp Agent Sinai Pauni is one of the hundreds of Delta people behind the wheel of an electric bag tractor every day. She’s responsible for ensuring luggage is taken off arriving planes and delivered where it needs to go. "Electric is the way to go," she said, noting that she spends nearly her entire day driving. "You don't have to worry about the fumes and the emissions from a gas-[or diesel] powered vehicle."

Her colleague, Aircraft Load Agent Thomas Tuikolovatu, a 15-year Delta veteran, has seen the transition from fossil fuels to electric result in equipment that improves his workday. "They're a lot more enjoyable to drive," he said. "They’re easy to maneuver around the aircraft.”

Investing in Infrastructure

The Salt Lake City airport has been undergoing a multi-year metamorphosis. On the surface, that means beautiful, welcoming and modern terminals. But building the new SLC also meant planning for electric charging stations strategically placed to charge eGSE while including LEED standards throughout the design for energy efficiency.

“eGSE requires a completely new energy source – that means charging stations for our equipment,” Fletcher added. “The transformation takes thoughtful planning and commitment in the midst of a 24-7 operation that demands the reliability our people and customers expect and deserve. We’re grateful to our airport partners for their collaboration and support.”

Additionally, enabling policies including the federal Voluntary Airport Low Emissions (VALE) program for airports and state-specific grant programs for industry, are key to accelerating airport electrification and related infrastructure investment that can enable aviation’s long-term net-zero goal.

In March 2023 Delta laid out its vision to connect people to a more sustainable future by working to embed sustainability in everything it does and eliminate its climate impact from flying. The strategy builds on strong progress to date including eliminating more 5 million pounds of single-use plastics onboard annually and saving more than 10 million gallons of fuel in 2022, alone. Deploying electric tractors, bag loaders and the infrastructure that supports them is just one small but meaningful step on this journey that the global airline views as a business imperative.

“Creating an elevated, more enjoyable experience with more sustainable products and services is at the center of Delta’s sustainability strategy,” Fletcher said. “I’m optimistic about the journey that we’re on, motivated by the progress teams across Delta are making and excited about our future.”

*Core fleet consists of baggage tractors, belt loaders and aircraft tow tractors.**All eligible core & critical fleets necessary to turn an aircraft.

DOWNLOAD VIDEO |B-ROLLInvesting in Infrastructure