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Sea-Tac to get “central air” for planes at gates

Post by John Gillie / The News Tribune on Oct. 28, 2010 at 1:54 pm |
October 28, 2010 1:54 pm

Sea-Tac Airport got a financial boost today for its plan to reduce air pollution at the busy airport when the Federal Aviation Administration announced an $18.3 million grant to help build a centralized heating and air conditioning system for planes at airport gates.

This “central air” system will replace a hodgepodge of less efficient, more polluting systems used to keep aircraft interiors cool or warm while the planes are loading passengers.

When the $33-million system is completed in 2012, aircraft will receive conditioned air through a flexible duct that will connect the aircraft to the heating system at each gate.

Each gate’s system will receive a chilled or heated mixture of water and glycol from a central heating and air conditioning plant. That mixture will warm or cool air through a heat exchanger before that air is piped to each plane.

Currently, aircraft used a variety of methods, all of them more polluting and less efficient than the central system. Some aircraft run their auxiliary power units to keep their interiors at the correct temperatures. Those tail-mounted units are small turbines that burn jet fuel to general electricity and air to power aircraft systems when the main engines are shut down.

Other aircraft receive their conditioned air from portable diesel or electric units that roll up to the plane when it arrives.

And still others, notably Southwest Airlines planes at Sea-Tac, receive conditioned air from individual heating and cooling plants at each gate.

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said his agency’s $18.3 million grant to Sea-Tac is the largest its has made to any airport for such an environmental project.

The airport, and ultimately the airlines it serves, will pay the additional $14.7 cost of the conversion project, said Sea-Tac director Mark Reis.

The heating and cooling project is part of a larger Sea-Tac initiative to cut fuel consumption, waste and pollution at the airport.

The airport, for instance, is equipping each of its 73 gates with charging stations for airport ramp vehicles such as the tugs that move baggage carts, tractors to move aircraft away from the gates and other vehicles that service airliners. The Port of Seattle, which owns the airport, plans to replace some 200 gas and diesel vehicles with battery-powered electric vehicles once the charging stations are installed.

The airport has already implemented a dual-stream waste system for wastes generated aboard the aircraft. All recyclable materials are collected in central locations. Non-recyclable materials are collected in others.

And the airport is at the cutting edge of a new system that will allow aircraft using the airport to make descents from cruising altitude to landing in a way that minimizes fuel use. That optimized descent profile essentially will allow aircraft to glide downward in a sloping path to landing rather than being stairstepped down from cruise levels.

That system, under development by SeaTac’s Alaska Airlines, the FAA, Sea-Tac and Boeing, could be approved for general use within 18 months or two years, said officials.

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