Ground support equipment (GSE) is the support equipment found at an airport, usually on the apron, the servicing area by the terminal. This equipment is used to service the aircraft between flights. As the name suggests, ground support equipment is there to support the operations of aircraft whilst on the ground. The role of this equipment generally involves ground power operations, aircraft mobility, and cargo/passenger loading operations.
Many airlines subcontract ground handling to an airport or a handling agent, or even to another airline. Ground handling addresses the many service requirements of a passenger aircraft between the time it arrives at a terminal gate and the time it departs for its next flight. Speed, efficiency, and accuracy are important in ground handling services in order to minimize the turnaround time (the time during which the aircraft remains parked at the gate).
Small airlines sometimes subcontract maintenance to a larger carrier, as it may be a better alternative to setting up an independent maintenance base. Some airlines may enter into a Maintenance and Ground Support Agreement (MAGSA) with each other, which is used by airlines to assess costs for maintenance and support to aircraft.
Most ground services are not directly related to the actual flying of the aircraft, and instead involve other service tasks. Cabin services ensure passenger comfort and safety. They include such tasks as cleaning the passenger cabin and replenishment of on-board consumables or washable items such as soap, pillows, tissues, blankets, and magazines. Security checks are also made to make sure no threats have been left on the aircraft. Airport GSE comprises a diverse range of vehicles and equipment necessary to service aircraft during passenger and cargo loading and unloading, maintenance, and other ground-based operations. The wide range of activities associated with aircraft ground operations lead to an equally wide-ranging fleet of GSE. For example, activities undertaken during a typical aircraft gate period include: cargo loading and unloading, passenger loading and unloading, potable water storage, lavatory waste tank drainage, aircraft refueling, engine and fuselage examination and maintenance, and food and beverage catering. Airlines employ specially designed GSE to support all these operations. Moreover, electrical power and conditioned air are generally required throughout gate operational periods for both passenger and crew comfort and safety, and many times these services are also provided by GSE.