We talked about it two years ago, and since last October, the TaxiBot (Towbarless airplane towing tractor), has been certified by the European Aviation Safety Agency. To date, Lufthansa is the first, and only airline, to be using these three electrically powered aircraft tractors at Frankfurt airport, so we went to see for ourselves; but how does it work ?
To be able to move on the ground, a ‘plane must use its engines, and therefore fuel. To avoid this waste, the TaxiBot is there to tow the aircraft from the gate to the runway. Totally electric, it saves between 50 and 100 kg (110 - 220 lbs.) of kerosene, per trip, for a Boeing 737, and up to 600 kg (>1,300 lbs.) for an A380, without mentioning the CO2 emissions.
Pilots steer the TaxiBot using the normal nose-gear tiller in the cockpit ; with the aircraft’s nose-gear wheels resting on a rotating platform, the directional changes are then transmitted to the TaxiBot’s own eight wheels.
Yehoshua Eldar, Executive Vice President Israel Aerospace Industries
"The technological problems which had to be solved by the TaxiBot, were that it has to rotate at exactly the same rate as the aircraft."
To take advantage of this new vehicle, Lufthansa has partnered with two manufacturers: Israel Aerospace Industries, and the French group, TLD. The German airline has given itself one year to quantify the savings, but already has plans to acquire other tractors, including a larger model, at present being developed for long-haul aircraft.
Kay Kratky, Director of Operations Lufthansa in Frankfurt
"We estimate that there could be a maximum of eight to ten, or maybe eleven tractors, that we would use for our short-haul fleet. As you have heard today, at the end of the year, we'll decide if we move into a second phase for our larger aircraft long-haul flights. Based on that decision, there will be an opportunity for two, three or four additional tractors."
If TaxiBot passes the test, other companies could follow suit. Discussions are currently underway, but for now, none have come to fruition. At present, the price of this electrically powered aircraft tractor, remains confidential. Safran, Honeywell and Airbus are working on another electrical tug vehicle system.