- ‘Follow me’ cars are special vehicles used at airports to guide aircraft during ground operations, ensuring safety and efficiency.
- These cars may be increasingly powered by electricity as airports strive to become more environmentally sustainable.
- ‘Follow me’ cars have unique technological features and can also serve a logistical purpose for airport staff, transporting equipment and materials.
Many of us will be familiar with the routine of driving to the airport and parking up, full of anticipation for the journey ahead, despite having likely had to pay a hefty sum for the privilege of parking. However, what about some of the cars that work on the airport’s apron itself? Known as ‘follow me’ vehicles, these automobiles can help make an airport’s ground operations safer and more convenient.
What do follow-me cars do?
Whether at a tiny regional facility or an intercontinental mega-hub, safely marshaling taxiing aircraft plays a crucial role in an airport’s safe and efficient ground operations. When parking at gates, marshalers often guide aircraft onto the stand using hand gestures made clearer through the use of illuminated sticks. However, airports can also use another visual aid to guide aircraft from place to place.
This additional visual aid comes in the form of a so-called ‘follow me’ car. Airports provide these special vehicles as something for aircraft to follow on their journeys across the facility. According to Skybrary, this can be done for both safety and convenience. Of course, not all aircraft receive such assistance, as for this to be the case, large airports would require an enormous fleet of such vehicles.
Interestingly, moving forward, we may find that these vehicles are increasingly powered by electricity instead of conventional fuel sources. This would represent a small but valuable part of the puzzle in terms of making commercial aviation a more sustainable industry. Indeed, India is encouraging all of its airports to deploy electric ground vehicles in an attempt to become carbon neutral.
How do they differ from regular vehicles?
As you might come to expect, various technological features set airport ‘follow me’ cars apart from their typical road-going counterparts. German automotive manufacturer Daimler works closely with Intax to convert around 5,000 vehicles every year for such purposes, and the company states that:
“The vehicles used as the basis for follow-me vehicles include the Mercedes-Benz Citan panel van, Mixto, or crew bus. The follow-me fixture on the roof is available as a fixed installation or in a magnetic version, with operation by switches or a control panel. Numerous additional mechanical or electronic features are also available.”
Photo: Ilona Lablaika | Shutterstock
Furthermore, in addition to their role as a practical visual guide for taxiing aircraft, these vehicles also have the ability to serve a logistical purpose for airport staff. Indeed, they often serve as the quickest means of getting equipment from one part of the airport to another. Daimler’s follow-me cars are bespoke, and it adds:
“The application of adhesive foil coverings is to individual customer request. The same applies to the installation of shelving or stowage facilities for signalling equipment and airport-specific electronics.”
While commercial aircraft certainly fly at relatively high speeds, their taxiing speeds are rather more pedestrian and don’t require follow-me cars to be any faster than average. However, some airports have taken the liberty of using high-powered sports cars in this role, such as Bologna Guglielmo Marconi Airport (BLQ) in Italy.
As pictured above, the facility began using a V10-powered 5.2-liter Lamborghini Huracán Evo as a follow-me car back in June 2021. According to the legendary Italian sports car manufacturer, this special marshaling vehicle was “specifically designed to excite people traveling through Bologna International Airport.”
Not a place for normal cars
Commercial aviation is a highly safety-driven industry. As with all aspects of this line of work, the use of ‘follow me’ cars takes place amid parameters and regulations that minimize danger to passengers and employees. As such, an airport’s apron is not somewhere vehicles off the street can drive on.
Photo: hodim | Shutterstock
However, in November 2020, Van Nuys Airport in California experienced an unusual runway incursion when a road car being pursued by police penetrated the airport’s perimeter fence and sped across its runways and taxiways. This dangerous situation forced the airport to suspend operations for around an hour.
Thankfully, the car’s driver was stopped and arrested with no injuries to anyone involved. The same could be said for a similar incident in Thailand in January 2021, when the car’s driver claimed to have taken a wrong turn. It was reported that the driver might have been under the influence of illegal drugs at the time.
Have you ever seen a ‘follow me’ car at an airport? Perhaps you work in aircraft marshaling and have even driven one? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!