Airport vehicles: see what's part of the operation

See what could be transporting your luggage around

2y ago

Having previously worked at an airport as a baggage handler, I've come across many weird and wonderful vehicles that are used to transport luggage and carry out other tasks as well. Come and delve into the world of airport vehicles and what ones could be tasked with safely getting your luggage from the baggage halls to those huge aerodynamic lumps of metal that we call planes.

1. Towing tractors

These as a general rule are what take your bags to the plane and also take them to the baggage reclaim belts once the have been offloaded. They are capable of carrying up to 4 baggage trailers at once.

There were two different versions where I worked; a diesel powered once and an electric powered one. The diesel (above) was usually what people preferred due to more power and more comfortable suspension. They were automatic and as such had a forward and reverse gear with a neutral position. These vehicles also had a low rumble from the exhaust which made them quite fun.

The electric variant (below) made a great whining noise typical of electric vehicles and did have heating like the diesel variant. That's about as far as the positives go on the EBT( Electric baggage tug) as they were incredibly hard to find as they were always being used and if you were lucky enough to find one it likely had next to no charge left on it. We used to play a game of find the EBT. They weren't the nippiest either, I managed to get a whopping 21km/h out of one once, this equates to around 13 mph. Also the suspension was basically natures cushion so your back took quite a battering and was left feeling sore.

2. The Conveyor belt

Again, there were electric and diesel powered versions but the gulf in difference wasn't as much as the towing tractors. These are what baggage handlers use to load and offload your bags onto planes with ' bulk holds. ' These are where you manually stack the bags in the hold. So the bags are loaded onto the belt for the guys in the hold to receive, the speed of the belt can be changed too. Some people used to speed them up as a joke to annoy the guys in the hold.

Some of the newer belts have pressure sensors fitted to cut the power if it thinks it has hit the airplane.

As it's not just bags that go in the hold, sometimes you see mail, dogs, cats and even coffins being loaded on and off the belts!

3. High/Low Loader

These are used for when the luggage is loaded into a ULD ( Unit loading device), this is where bags are delivered to the plane in Bins and get loaded onto the plane in bins. This is a baggage handlers favourite type of flight as it means most of the team can relax as you don't have to stack bags manually. The low loader is typically used for narrow body planes, where as the high loader is used for bigger capacity wide bodied planes such as the A330 and 747s as these planes have cargo on them as you'll see in the pictures below.

High Loader/cargo loader

High Loader/cargo loader

ULD loader

ULD loader

4. Pushback tug

These are the mighty powerhouses that you see pushing back the planes onto the taxiway from the stands. They are also diesel powered where I worked however some are now becoming remote controlled. These things are basically more compact tractors on steroids. They are attached to the airplane through a towbar or some of the tugs can directly connect to the plane and lift the wheels up. Once the headset man has told the driver that the pilot has released the brakes then they will push the plane back.

You feel very heavy vibrations throughout the vehicle due to its shear power and torque, but they are quite cool to watch.

5. Dacia Sandero

Yes, I know this may come as a shock to most of you. But yes the Dacia Sandero is very very common at the airport I worked at. They were mainly used so that the TCOs ( Turn around coordinators) could get to their jobs. However at the end of the day they were used to give us measly baggage handlers a lift to the exit, and boy were you happy to sit in them. After driving around in an EBT all day it felt like a Rolls Royce. They were abused to the hilt and many had slipping clutches due to said abuse. It's also quite funny seeing an army of Sanderos flying round an extremely high security area.

Mitsubishi L200

These were used by airfield operations/security to patrol the airport and make sure no unsavory things were happening and also to carry out checks and to respond to incidents such as if an aircraft has had a bird strike or if there has been a fuel spill. We all found it quite ironic that this was their weapon of choice however, because the airport was promoting clean electric vehicles and they were using ones which pumped out plenty of dirty diesel emissions.

Well there we go, those are the vehicles relevant to baggage handlers, I hope you've been able to learn a little bit about why and how these vehicles are used! If you are ever at a loose end job wise I would recommend doing it just for a few months to tide you over because the people you work with are great and you get to see interesting things!

Let me know your best airport stories either as a Traveler or worker.

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Comments (6)

  • I have personal experience of attempting to pull stoppies in these things..... Also a sore head after having to take one off road in the desert.....

      2 years ago
  • I love that Schopf reminds me of "The Highwayman" series that one of the trucks had that low rider look. I would definitely love to drive it!

      2 years ago
  • I think that the most fun thing about an airport is when the plane arrives and you see those Sanderos screeching the tires coming out of the Terminal towards the fork in which the plane arrived, then they do a Quick U-Turn and guide the plane to the terminal, those go faster than any average sandero on their life.

      2 years ago
  • Great article! The tractor units that move the airplanes around have always fascinated me.

      2 years ago
  • We also had JCB Fastracs for towing aircraft in Iraq. Bloody good fun they were!

      2 years ago