Aircraft safety is serious business. From how many hours till the next hot section inspection or engine overhaul to how many cycles till the aircraft’s tires are replaced, every little thing involving the maintenance and repair of an aircraft has to be strictly regulated and monitored. And while it would be cool if all the service and maintenance was done in the sky, it’s usually done on the ground with aircraft ground support equipment.
Aircraft ground support equipment, or GSE, are specialized tools and devices used to service military and commercial aircraft while they are down on the ground. Found usually in the service area by the terminal of an airport, GSE are used for both routine maintenance and unscheduled repair to ensure the various systems on the aircraft are working properly.
These tools and equipment can be grouped in several different ways: for example, aircraft handling and aircraft servicing. If you group GSE’s into handling and servicing, handling equipment would include tow tractors, cranes, and dollies while servicing equipment would include power generators, cabin pressure test units, fluid servicing units, munition loading systems, and electrical testers. Servicing equipment, for maneuverability and mobility, are usually self-propelled, trailer mounted, or towed.
For commercial airplanes, most ground support doesn’t pertain to flying the aircraft in any way, but rather in cabin services. Catering vehicles, cleaning services, lavatory service vehicles, passenger boarding equipment, belt loaders, and so on are also considered GSE.
In most cases, aircraft servicing and handling is a quick and routine process that doesn’t affect the passengers in any way. However, if pre-flight checks reveal any problems, the plane might have to be towed to the hangar for further inspection and repairs, and the passengers will have to wait.