Managers at the world’s most efficient single-runway airport have commissioned a pair of specially equipped Mercedes-Benz Sprinters to help them meet soaring demand from passengers.
The new ‘rover’ vehicles have been assigned to two-man Airside Operations teams whose job is to keep Gatwick Airport’s runway and taxiways clear of Foreign Object Debris (FOD). Small spills of hydraulic oil, or items dropped by passengers, for example, might otherwise cause a costly delay and could even pose a safety hazard.
Supplied by Dealer S & B Commercials, both are Sprinter 314 CDI models with optional 7G-TRONIC PLUS seven-speed automatic gearboxes, air-conditioning systems, and all-season tyres. The vans were painted at the Mercedes-Benz factory in high-visibility Golden Yellow while their purpose-designed bodies are by Wilker Auto Conversions, which is best known for building ambulances.
Gatwick is the UK’s second-largest airport and serves more destinations – 228 in 74 countries – than any of its competitors. January was its 59th consecutive month of growth, with more than 2.8 million passengers travelling through.
“We typically handle 950 take-offs and landings per day, with a new aircraft on the runway every 55 seconds during peak periods,” said Gatwick Airport Fleet Manager John Hole. “This illustrates why the role these new vehicles play is so important. If the taxiways and stands are not kept clear of debris then an aircraft might miss its departure slot, which can have major consequences.”
As well as responding rapidly to spills and other incidents, the Airside Operations teams undertake routine inspections at night, when the airport is quieter – having secured the ‘all clear’ from air traffic control they will venture onto the runway and use the high-density lights carried on the Sprinters to check for damage to the surface, and anything that should not be there.
The new vans have replaced two Sprinters that had performed the same role for the last 11 years. This is the first time, however, that Gatwick has opted for the four-door crewcab variant, which incorporates a four-man bench seat behind the two front seats and means that additional personnel can be ‘scrambled’ to work on larger incidents.
Other in-cab features included to make the job safer and more comfortable for crews who can spend entire 12-hour shifts in their vehicles include orange seat belts and grab handles, arm rests and heated electric mirrors. The partially cage-sided bodies, meanwhile, are fitted with tail-lifts, and storage units with roller shutter doors which carry clean-up equipment and materials. The inventory also includes a medical kit, as the teams are trained to deal with minor injuries and can assist before an ambulance reaches the scene of an incident.
The specification for Gatwick’s new ‘rovers’ was drawn up by a vehicle working group which included representatives of the Airside Operations team. Explaining the decision to replace its outgoing Sprinters with the latest versions of the same model, Mr Hole said: “These vehicles do not cover big mileages but given the critical nature of the work they have to perform, and that includes starting first time, every time.
“Our experience with their predecessors, and, indeed, with six other Sprinters which are allocated to our engineering team, has confirmed that the Mercedes-Benz product offers the all-important reliability which is so crucial to the smooth running of the airport.”
He continued: “There are also very few others on the market that can offer the combination of an automatic gearbox and a crewcab. Both were essential for us – the two-pedal set-up makes life a lot easier for drivers, while the extra seating gives us greater operational flexibility.”
Mr Hole praised the service that he and his colleagues had received from S & B Commercials’ National Fleet Sales Executive James Jeffries. “From the first point of contact through to delivery of the vehicles, James has been exceptionally helpful,” he said. “He put together a compelling package and kept us fully informed throughout the build phase. We couldn’t have asked for more.”
Winner of the Airport of the Year title at the National Transport Awards 2017, Gatwick Airport served 45.6 million passengers last year. Located to the south of London, with excellent public transport links into the capital, it is a major economic driver for the UK, contributing £5.3 billion to national GDP and generating 85,000 jobs nationally.