If you thought preparing dinner for the extended family is a logistical headache, spare a thought for the team at LSG Sky Chefs at Auckland Airport, who prepare up to 20,000 meals each day, loading them on to some 75 different aircraft at all hours of the
day and night. The LSG Sky Chefs Auckland operation is a medium-sized facility, part of their global catering network comprising 208 customer service centres in 54 countries.
The Auckland facility is impressive. A major building programme has just been completed with a new 11,000sq metre building designed to keep up with increasing airline demand.
Properties and Facilities Manager Jim Boekhorst enlightened us on the 500 skilled kitchen staff, high local quality ingredients, ever changing menus and regular food tasting sessions. He then reminded us that this area was off limits, for security reasons. It was, after all, the road transport operation we were here to see.
LSG Sky Chefs has a fleet of 23 road vehicles in Auckland, most of which are high loader
trucks designed to transport food out to waiting aircraft and load it on board. As passenger aircraft have grown, the task has become more complex especially with the introduction of the new Airbus A380, which brought with it a fresh set of challenges.
An A380 is almost 73m long and 80m across its vast wings; it carries up to 850 passengers and is stickered for a gross take-off weight of 560 tonnes. The major challenge for ground crews is that the loading doors for the upper deck are 8.3m above ground, well outside the reach of the older generation of high loader trucks. Two of those doors are over the wings, making access more difficult.
LSG Sky Chefs Auckland had to invest in three new state-of-the art high loader trucks to service the A380s and it is the latest of these, based on a three-axle MAN chassis, that we are specifically interested in. In MAN terminology, the truck is a 23.290 (6×2) with a gross weight of 23 tonnes, a 290hp engine and single drive/lazy axle setup bringing up the rear.
The TGM is the middle weight workhorse of the MAN range, available in 4×2, 4×4, 6×2, 6×4 and 8×4 configurations up to 30 tonnes GVM. Power comes from the company’s D0836 six cylinder in-line diesel with ratings of 250hp, 290hp or 340hp, all of which produce maximum power at 2300rpm.
The D0836 incorporates the latest technology from Europe with twin turbochargers, four
valves per cylinder and electronically controlled common rail fuel injection. It meets Euro 5 by means of a cooled EGR system. The net result is a responsive but surprisingly quiet engine with full torque of 1150Nm (for the 290hp version) available anywhere from 1200 to 1750rpm. There is plenty of retarding action as well from MAN’s built-in engine brake. Standard transmission for the TGM range is MAN’s 12- speed TipMatic automated manual,
although a 9-speed ZF manual is available as an option. The TipMatic, built by ZF, is a constant mesh design with automated clutch operation and ratios from 10.37 to one through to an overdrive 0.81 top gear.
From the driver’s seat normal driving is simplicity itself; no clutch pedal and a rotary dial in the centre console to select drive, neutral or reverse. There is additional position at either end of the selector marked Dm and Rm for low speed manoeuvring such as coupling up to a trailer. If desired, the transmission can be operated manually with up and down shifts selected by a stalk on the left side of the steering column. MAN’s Easy Start system is also fitted which holds the brakes on briefly until the accelerator is pressed, avoiding the possibility of the truck rolling backwards during a hill start.
Chassis design also reflects current European practice with electronically controlled air suspension at the rear and disc brakes all round with ABS, traction control and stability control. The TGM has a clear top flange and a multitude of pre-drilled holes intended to make body fitment easier. The LSG Sky Chefs truck is fitted with a basic yet comfortable three-seater day cab, but MAN has dual cab and full-sized sleeper options. That high loader bodywork sits right down over the cab in the lowered position, helping keep the centre of gravity down for on-road operation.
The trip from the LSG Sky Chefs’ Auckland facility to the aircraft ramp is only a kilometre or so but the first section is on public roads, so all vehicles have to comply with normal mass and dimension limits. High loader catering bodies are a specialist bit of gear and CTV Doll of Thailand is the largest such manufacturer of these and other dedicated
aircraft support vehicles. LSG Sky Chefs new MAN TGM came off its normal production line in Steyr, Austria. It was transferred to a truck modification centre to have the trailing axle fitted, then shipped to CTV Doll in Thailand for body fitment and finally sent on to New Zealand.
Basically, the high loader has a box van body with doors at either end which can be raised to the required height by means of a massive scissor lift mechanism. The truck has to be accurately positioned in relation to the aircraft door and stabilised by hydraulic legs before lifting. Power is taken from a high capacity PTO-driven pump on the MAN transmission, meaning a lot of engine hours are clocked up for relatively small road mileage.
To reach the over-wing doors on the A380, the latest CTV Doll unit has an additional function to slide the front section of the high loader body to one side. Outgoing food, beverages, magazines, audio headsets and other requirements are then wheeled onto the aircraft in trolleys and secured in the appropriate galleys.
There is not a lot of volume or weight involved – around 500kgs per galley – but this new unit has a permissible payload of 4500kg, meaning two or three outgoing flights can be serviced without returning to the catering facility. Tare weight of the truck is a hefty 17.5 tonnes, requiring the move to a 6×2 chassis whereas previous high loader units fitted nicely on a 4×2. The MAN 23.290 is a model designed specifically for the Australian and New Zealand market where lower axle weights apply and tare weight is critical. Use of 19.5in tyres keeps chassis height down and provides better stability for high loads.
Driver Ali started out on LSG Sky Chefs’ older 4×2 trucks and finds the new MAN easy to drive. “Just like a big car” he explained during our brief run out to the tarmac where three A380s were due in. Some body roll is evident on roundabouts reminding us of the substantial tare weight otherwise, as Ali says, it would be easy to forget you are driving a heavy truck. There looks to be acres of concrete out on the tarmac but with numerous other vehicles engaged in servicing one aircraft, manoeuvrability and good vision are critical. There also seems to be a lot of waiting around in this job, but once the plane is safely parked up, everyone has to move quickly. Delaying an international flight after the scheduled departure time costs thousands of dollars a minute and LSG Sky Chefs does everything possible to ensure the reliability of its service. All the fleet are well maintained and local contractor Transmech NZ Ltd is on call around the clock in the event of breakdowns.
The MAN TGM certainly works well in this specialised role but has much broader applications across the distribution and construction sector.
Dean Hoverd, national sales manager for Penske Commercial Vehicles, points out the
traditional price advantage enjoyed by Japanese makers is narrowing and that MAN is well
placed to increase its market share. He feels better fuel economy, cab comforts and safety are major selling points for MAN and that models tailored specifically for the New Zealand market will appeal to a wider range of buyers. We will look at a different application of the MAN TGM in a future issue.