All-round Talent on the Apron

Perfect timing and absolute precision are required when handling aircraft. A new apron trainer enables ground staff to rehearse all situations in order to avoid damage and accidents.

Played a leading role in the development and deployment of the apron trainer: Klemens Krys of the BER (v. l.), Ann-Christin Küter (HiSERV), Daniel Langner (DEKRA), Roland Ückert, and Thorsten Bienasch (HiSERV). Photo: Sebastian Höhn

Played a leading role in the development and deployment of the apron trainer: Klemens Krys of the BER (v. l.), Ann-Christin Küter (HiSERV), Daniel Langner (DEKRA), Roland Ückert, and Thorsten Bienasch (HiSERV). Photo: Sebastian Höhn

The passenger boarding bridge is perfectly positioned at the fuselage. Sunlight is reflected in its white paint and the open outer door invites passengers to board. The only thing missing is a flight attendant at the gangway, with a friendly “Welcome” on their lips. It’s a typical training situation in which the “smart trainer” presents itself at the Main Pier of the new Berlin Airport BER.

The device with the conspicuous orange lettering may be just an airplane dummy, but it’s a very versatile one. As the world’s first apron trainer, it has been used by ground personnel, workshop staff, and the fire department of BER for training purposes since June 2020, initially for six months. Its 13.6-meter length contains all the important docking points of an aircraft on both sides – from cargo door to air starter connection.

Airplane dummy: risk assessment in accordance with EC directives

“The smart trainer is a real all-round talent,” says Daniel Langner, Head of the Aviation Ground Equipment Department at DEKRA. He is responsible for the trainer’s technical monitoring. The trainer has been leased to the BER by HiSERV, a Berlin-based rental company of Ground Service Equipment (GSE). It was built by the company Schrader Fahrzeugbau from North Rhine-Westphalia. “As DEKRA, we were commissioned by the manufacturer to carry out the risk assessment in accordance with EC directives and to propose measures,” says Langner. The issues at stake specifically included the trainer’s tilt stability, its wind load, the brakes, and possible crushing hazards for ground staff. A prototype had previously been tested at Salzburg Airport.

Training situation at the Main Pier of BER: Whether belt-loader for baggage loading, passenger stairs for the parking position on the apron, or large passenger bridge directly at the terminal – several situations can be practiced on the apron trainer simultaneously. Foto: Sebastian Höhn Over a length of 13.6 meters, the apron trainer unites all important docking points for ground equipment on both sides of an aircraft. Photo: Sebastian Höhn Versatile: The apron trainer can be used to rehearse the operation of numerous vehicles and equipment used in flight handling. Photo: Sebastian Höhn Nothing works without it on icy winter days: One of the BER de-icing vehicles working on the apron trainer. Photo: Sebastian Höhn Rolling baggage conveyor belt: The belt loader is attached to the apron trainer. Photo: Sebastian Höhn The so-called high loader in use on the apron trainer. Among other things, the lifting vehicle is used to transport freight containers into the fuselage. Photo: Sebastian Höhn The apron trainer can be used for training purposes throughout airport grounds, including by fire department and workshop staff. Photo: Sebastian Höhn Use of a so-called pushback – an aircraft tractor – on the apron trainer. Photo: Sebastian Höhn Even before the opening of the BER, the apron trainer allowed the ground staff to specifically try out the correct attachment of the new passenger boarding bridges in peace and quiet. Photo: Sebastian Höhn

Roland Ückert, Managing Director of HiSERV, explains why the device is likely to be in demand at other airports in the future: “Practical training on this simulator will significantly reduce the risk of damage to aircraft fuselages.” New employees in particular could practice all device simulations without risk. “The insurance costs for damage to aircraft are often enormous and likely to increase significantly due to new aircraft types with composite materials,” says Ückert.

For the Berlin Brandenburg Airport Company, which helped develop and was the smart trainer’s first leaseholder, the device has an enormous advantage in the run-up to the opening of BER: the ground staff can try out new passenger boarding bridges, some of which are designed for the Airbus A380, in peace and quiet. “These bridges, with their many sensors, were not previously available at the old airports in Schönefeld and Tegel,” explains Klemens Krys, BER’s Quality and Process Management Officer. In this way, the trainer also helps to reduce staff anxiety and trains them adequately for daily operations.

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