Electric Taxi Service for Airplanes

In the ongoing quest to cut costs, as well as reduce air and noise pollution, the aviation industry has been looking at using electric-powered vehicles to tow airplanes to a holding area at the start of the runway in preparation for takeoff. During this process, the airplane’s engines would be off, thereby reducing pollution, and cutting fuel and maintenance costs. In Frankfurt, Lufthansa is currently testing a vehicle dubbed the “TaxiBot”, an electric-powered tow truck developed by Israel Aerospace Industries, which fits under the nose wheel of an airplane and is controlled by the pilot in the cockpit just as he would if taxiing the plane. Once the airplane is positioned near the runway, the pilot starts the engines and prepares for takeoff, while the driver in the TaxiBot drives it back to the terminal for its next pickup.

The driver facilitates the coupling with the plane by sliding the TaxiBot under it and raising the nose wheel off the ground. After that the pilot and the TaxiBot’s navigation system take over to guide the airplane to the runway. Because the TaxiBot’s navigation system is familiar with the layout of the airport, it will automatically slow down when there is a sharp curve which is likely to reduce wear on the airplane’s brakes. Also, because number of hours of use are the basis for engine overhauls, airlines will save money on maintenance. Moreover, with airplanes not starting their engines at the terminal, the very real problem of litter being sucked into engines at this point will be minimized.

Director of marketing in the engineering unit of Lufthansa, Gerhard Baumgarten, notes that using a TaxiBot to tow a Boeing 737, for example, to the runway can save up to 35 gallons of jet fuel costing more than $100, while the savings on an Airbus A380 could be up to 130 gallons of fuel costing nearly $400.

A partnership between American conglomerate company Honeywell International and French aerospace company Safran is working on their EGTS – Electric Taxiing System – which reportedly has Airbus and Air France as their supporters. The EGTS was demonstrated at the Paris Air Show last summer, reportedly receiving a positive response. Using electric motors mounted on the airplane’s main landing-gear wheels, the EGTS backs the plane away from the boarding gates, allowing the pilot to use the plane’s tiller to steer it to the end of a runway. Make use of the EGTS should result in a fuel saving of up to 4 percent, according to the manufacturers.

While developers focus on the economic and environmental advantages of towing vs taxiing at airports, passengers will no doubt be pleased that listening to the roar of the airplane’s engines while still on the ground may soon be a thing of the past.