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Ground Support Equipment Glossary

Since 1971, Tronair has differentiated itself in the aviation market by offering a diverse and innovative range of high-quality Ground Support Equipment (GSE).

What Is Ground Support Equipment?

Ground Support equipment is an industry term that refers to support equipment typically found at an airport that is used to service the aircraft between flights. Ground Support Equipment is generally kept on a ramp near the terminal when not in use for quick accessibility. GSE’s main purpose is to support the safe operations of the aircraft after landing and before taking off again. Ground Support Equipment usually involves a variety of aircraft mobility, ground power operations, and cargo and passenger loading operations. 

What is Ground Handling?

Aircraft ground handling is an aviation industry term that refers to the variety of services performed on an aircraft while it is still on the ground at a terminal gate at an airport. These services include:

  • Cabin Service - ensure passenger comfort, clean cabins, replenish onboard consumables.
  • Catering - unloading unused food & beverages, reloading fresh food and beverages for both passengers and crew.
  • Ramp Service - This includes a variety of services on the ramp or apron, including aircraft marshalling, towing, lavatory drainage, luggage handling, Hydraulic mules, etc.
  • Passenger Service
  • Field Operation Service

Non-Powered Ground Support Equipment Types


A dolly (plural:dollies) is a platform on wheels used to hold and transport heavy, cumbersome objects. Learn more about aircraft dollies offered by Tronair to get a better understanding of what these airport dollies look like. There are several different types of dollies commonly found in Ground Support Equipment:

  • Dollies For Loose Baggage - Loose baggage dollies can be used to transport a variety of loose baggage, including mail bags, cargo carton boxes, etc. These types of dollies feature a brake system to prevent the wheels from moving when not desired. Commonly, loose baggage dollies are completely enclosed to protect the items from the elements. Dollies for loose baggage are referred to as Baggage Carts in the US, but this term has different meanings in other parts of the world.

  • Dollies for unit load device (ULD) - The main difference between ULD Dollies and Dollies for Loose Baggage is that ULD Dollies are standardized to a specific size and operate much more like a mobile pallet. These units are designed to be lightweight and supportive and often fly along with the cargo they help transport to the aircraft. ULD Dollies rest on ball bearings and are equipped with hinges and locks to secure the load during tugging. ULD pallet dollies are often


Aircraft chocks are used to prevent an aircraft from moving while parked, and are essentially wood or rubber molds that are placed in front and back of the wheels of landing gear.

Aircraft Tripod Jacks

Aircraft jacks are used to support an aircraft while on the ground. Because the aircraft can become tail heavy when passengers deplane, it can be supported by an aircraft tripod jack, although not all planes need this.

Powered Ground Support Equipment Types:


Aircraft refuelers can be either self-contained vehicles or mobile carts. Since aircraft fuel needs are so massive, refueler trucks often carry up to 10,000 gallons of fuel. Smaller carts are used with a hydrant system which connects to a refueler truck and can simplify refueling logistics for airports by providing more refueling options from one truck.

Tugs and Tractors

Tugs and tractors are one of the most essential aspects of ground support equipment. Tugs are responsible for moving equipment that is too large to move itself, including air starters, lavatory carts, bag carts, and more.

Ground Power Units

Ground power units are mobile power units designed to supply power to parked aircraft. GPU are at times built directly into the jetway for even easier power supply access. Aircraft power requirements can range from 28 volts of direct-current to 115 volts 400 Hz alternating-current.

Tronair offers many different types of GPU for aircraft, including solid state, diesel, and gas powered GPU. Solid state units convert power from AC to DC to meet a variety of aircraft power requirements.


Buses are used to transport people from the terminal to other terminals or aircraft. While an airport bus could be found anywhere on an airport, airport buses that drive only on the apron are called “apron buses”. You may hear airport crew and staff refer to airport buses as people movers or mobile lounges. Airport buses can be similar to standard city buses or can be specially designed for use as an airport bus. These specialized airport buses are more likely to have low floors and wide doors for efficient passenger transportation.

Container Loader

Commonly referred to as “K loaders” container loaders are used to unload and load pallets on and off of an aircraft. Container loaders have two platforms which can be raised and lowered independently of one another. Built-in wheels or rollers make these units mobile. Container loaders are offered in a variety of sizes and standards:

  • 3.5 T
  • 7 T (standard, universal version)
  • 14 T
  • 30 T


Transporters are not commonly found in the US, but are popular in other airports around the world. The main advantage of transporters is that they are not just used for loading and unloading of cargo but the actual transportation of cargo as well.

Air Start Unit

Air start units are devices used to start an airplane’s engines in the event that APU is malfunctioning. The three main types of ASU are stored air carts, gas turbine units, and diesel engine screw compressor units. No matter what type of Air Start Unit is employed, they all leverage high-pressure air to start the aircraft’s engines.

Potable Water Trucks

To deliver safe drinking water to an aircraft, potable water trucks are used. These specialized vehicles store filtered, potable water to be delivered to aircraft as needed. These trucks utilize a pump to push the water from the truck to the airplane. 

Lavatory Service Vehicles

Lavatory service vehicles are used to quickly empty and refill aircraft lavatories.Aircraft lavatories typically store their waste in tanks on the aircraft until lavatory service vehicles can remove the waste upon landing. Before the plane departs, the lavatory must be refilled with a mixture of water and disinfectants. Some airports have what are known as lavatory carts, which are not self-powered and need to be pulled by a tug. View lavatory servicing vehicles and equipment from Tronair!

Catering Vehicle

Catering vehicles are used to facilitate the unloading and reloading of food and beverages for passengers and crew. Meals served on airplanes are typically delivered using these standardized catering vehicle carts. 

Belt Loaders

A belt loader is a type of vehicle with a conveyor belt design for easy unloading and loading of cargo and baggage onto an airplane. Belt loaders are commonly positioned at an aircraft hold’s door sill, where they can quickly be used to unload or load cargo.

Passenger Boarding, Steps, Stairs

Passenger boarding steps (also known as passenger boarding stairs, boarding ramps, stair car, or aircraft steps) is a mobile staircase designed to allow passengers and crew access to the aircraft doors. Most commercial aircraft have door sills 5 0 20 feet high, requiring stairs for safe access to the cabin and cockpit. Small passenger boarding steps can be pushed or towed by a number of different vehicles, but larger passenger boarding stairs are self-powered units. More sophisticated units offer adjustable height to accomodate a large range of commercial and private aircraft.

Pushback Tugs

Pushback tugs are a specialized type of towing vehicle designed to push aircraft away from the gate. As such, pushback tugs and tractors must be extremely powerful and are commonly referred to as “engines with wheels”. While it may seem counterintuitive, pushback tugs are sometimes used to pull aircraft into a hangar. Depending on the size of the aircraft, more powerful and different-sized pushback tugs are required.

De-icing vehicles

Depending on local climate at the airport, de-icing vehicles for aircraft are often needed to prevent frozen water and cold temperatures from affecting the aircraft. Special vehicles referred to as de-icing vehicles, or anti-icing vehicles, are used to treat the aircraft with anti-ice mixtures. Using a cherry-picker like devices, de-icing vehicles can access the entire aircraft and spray a special mixture of ice melting chemicals that also helps to prevent ice from building up while the aircraft awaits departure.

Tronair is the number one source of high-quality and innovative ground support equipment and related products. For more information on Tronair products, please contact us.


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