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For many people, transit seems like an obvious environmental improvement over people driving in individual ICE cars. When buses are full and driving at efficient speeds, that’s true, but the transportation landscape is changing. Not only are personal vehicles getting more efficient, but many buses drive around almost empty a lot on inefficient routes for a diesel engine.

One place where transit buses do their worst is at airports. Not only do they drive around the parking lots empty a lot, but the low speed stop-and-go driving they do leads to ICE engines getting the worst possible efficiency. Even worse, airport shuttles aren’t replacing cars, instead replacing walking. So, it’s really the worst efficiency possible for a bus compared to the most environmentally friendly option for moving people.

The good news? Places where gas and diesel engines perform and their worst and dirtiest are where EVs do their best. Low speeds mean that even a blocky bus doesn’t suffer from a meaningful amount of aerodynamic drag. Low speeds are also where electric motors give the best range. Finally, the stop-and-go drive cycle means no sitting and idling, getting zero MPG. On top of all that, regenerative braking means less wear and tear on brakes.

So, you’d think that with all of these advantages, every airport would have electric buses, right?

Sadly, we’re not there yet, but some recent news from Saint Louis shows us that not only is its airport getting cleaner buses, but there’s a national plan to put them at even more airports in the United States.

The FAA’s Paying Airports To Clean Up & Go Electric

Created in 2004, the FAA’s Voluntary Airport Low Emissions (VALE) program helps airport sponsors meet climate goals and their responsibilities under the Clean Air Act. VALE allows airport sponsors to utilize funds from the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) and Passenger Facility Charges (PFCs) for financing low emission vehicles, refueling and recharging stations, gate electrification, and other air quality enhancements at airports.

As of September 2022, the FAA reports that VALE grants funded 138 projects at 59 airports, expected to reduce ozone emissions by 1,755 tons annually for the next 5 years. That’s like taking 97,974 cars and trucks off the road each year.

You can learn more about that program here.

The Saint Louis Lambert Airport (STL) Used VALE To Go Electric

Lightning eMotors, a manufacturer of zero-emission, medium-duty commercial vehicles and EV technology for fleets, recently announced the sale of five Lightning ZEV4™ shuttle buses to St. Louis Lambert International Airport (STL). These vehicles will be operated by STL partner SP Plus Parking (SP Plus) to transport passengers between the airport’s terminals. The deal also includes five Level 2 chargers and one Level 3 DC fast charger, scheduled for delivery later this year. So, they’re not only getting the buses, but making sure they stay charged up and read to move people to the gates.

Not only did they take advantage of the VALE funds, but they were able to do it because Lighting eMotors was able to certify the vehicles as American-built, a requirement for the grants.

“Our team has worked hard to ensure our products meet the high standards required to receive any of the billions of federal dollars that are available to support the expansion of the EV ecosystem. This order is a great validation that our vehicles and charging technology are ideally suited to help airports achieve their business and environmental goals,” said Kash Sethi, chief revenue officer for Lightning eMotors. “As our first order purchased with funds from the FAA’s Buy American VALE funding program, it is a clear case study in why these grants are crucial to accelerating EV deployments at airports nationwide.”

This isn’t Lightning’s first electric airport rodeo, either. For instance, ACE Parking operates a fleet of 24 Lightning shuttle buses at San Diego International Airport. These buses have traveled over one million miles since 2020 and continue to offer emissions-free transportation to hundreds of passengers daily, ensuring affordable and reliable service. Additionally, Lightning recently conducted a successful test of its Lightning Mobile charger at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport.

Outside of airports, the company has a long history of providing clean electric transit options. Lightning eMotors has been providing specialized and sustainable fleet solutions since 2009. They have been deploying complete zero-emission-vehicle (ZEV) solutions for commercial fleets since 2018. During this time, they have deployed a wide range of vehicle classes and applications, including cargo and passenger vans, ambulances, transit and shuttle buses, school buses, specialty work trucks, and electric powertrains for school buses, transit buses, and motor coaches. Their collective commercial electric vehicle fleets have surpassed five million real-world miles.

“The Lightning ZEV4 will allow us to deliver EV shuttles to those that use St. Louis Lambert International Airport sooner,” said Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge, STL’s airport director and CEO. “St. Louis Lambert International is committed to sustainable, clean energy practices and we’re excited for passengers to begin experiencing that firsthand with our new shuttles.”

The five Lightning ZEV4 cutaway vehicles are constructed on Lightning’s second-generation, GM4500-based platform. Equipped with shuttle bodies, they are projected to cover 100 miles per shift. During charging breaks, one vehicle will operate continuously utilizing Lightning’s DC fast charger, while the others will be employed on a daily basis and charged overnight using Level 2 chargers. Lightning will also provide training to local service providers for the maintenance of the airport’s initial EV fleet.

“This process will allow us to move from thinking Green to being an airport that practices the Green concept,” said Hamm-Niebruegge.

“Airports provide an ideal use case for electric commercial vehicle fleets, particularly when you couple accessible FAA funding with the real-world operating benefits of EVs. This is an exciting expansion of our airport customer base and we’re confident it’s just the beginning of our work with airports across the country,” added Sethi.

Featured image provided by Lightning eMotors.

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