While we may take air conditioning for granted, we rely on this essential modern convenience – not only does it make indoor spaces more comfortable but, more importantly, it ensures safety from extreme temperatures. Heating and cooling in an aircraft is something the Department of Aviation takes very seriously and is an important part of the sustainability and operations of the airports.
At each of its gates, Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) has a preconditioned air (PCA) unit, which is an external heating, cooling, and dehumidifying device that provides fresh preconditioned air to the aircraft and jet bridges between flights. In the past, the aircraft’s auxiliary power unit (APU), powered by the jet engine, provided the energy to run these systems within the aircraft.
The air is “preconditioned” because it is filtered and treated for temperature and humidity before it enters the aircraft. In addition to maintaining comfort for passengers as well as the flight and service crews, preconditioned air helps preserve perishables in the aircraft galley and maintain electrical equipment.
The advantage with the external PCA units is that they use power from the regional electrical grid, eliminating the need to run aircraft engines between flights. In addition to saving jet fuel, these systems have a much lower carbon footprint, as they are powered by a mix of energy sources that includes renewables. As a result, they also significantly lower local air pollution in and around the airport.
All of PHL’s PCA installation projects are partially or fully funded through the FAA’s Voluntary Airport Low Emissions (VALE) program. PCA units have an expected useful life of 13 years, and the airport is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of all units for the duration of their useful life. The Capital Development Group at PHL plays a key role in managing this important infrastructure that keeps passengers cool and comfortable during the travel experience.