Regular readers of Airports International have been able to follow the development of the Innovative TaxiBot tow tractor since the vehicle’s public launch.
What makes this towbar-less 800hp strong hybrid-electric aircraft tractor different from others is that its movement is controlled by the pilot of the aircraft, rather than the tractor driver. A special nosewheel cradle in the TaxiBot registers all the steering movements and transfers these to navigate the tractor’s eight wheels. This enables the pilot to steer the tractor from the cockpit using Pilot Control Mode after pushing back from the gate, until it is released at the runway. The aircraft engines are not required to start up until the TaxiBot is separated from the aircraft.
Intended for use towing aircraft between the gate and the runway with the aircraft’s engines turned off, it has obvious potential to save the airlines lots of taxiing fuel, which simultaneously reduces aircraft engine emissions.
Following approval by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), Lufthansa LEOS, a subsidiary of Lufthansa Technik AG, has used three vehicles to gradually work towards operational status. After extensive testing and a number of software updates, the TaxiBot is now being used in real flight operations at Frankfurt Airport.
At a media event held at Frankfurt Airport on February 19, the TaxiBot’s towing procedures were demonstrated for local and international journalists, while taxiing a Lufthansa Boeing 737 to its take-off position.
“The Lufthansa Group is setting global standards in sustainable mobility. With innovations like the TaxiBot, we are not only helping to conserve fuel but are also making an important contribution towards reducing noise and exhaust emissions at airports,” said Kay Kratky, member of the Lufthansa German Airlines Board – Operations & Hub Frankfurt. The use of the TaxiBot at Lufthansa’s Frankfurt hub can save up to 2,700 tonnes of fuel on long-haul flights per year.”
Yehoshua Eldar, IAI Executive VP, and head of the TaxiBot programme steering committee added: “IAI, along with its partner TLD, has been co-operating since 2007 with Lufthansa LEOS in the development of the TaxiBot, with the support of both OEMs, Airbus and Boeing.
“TaxiBot is the only certified and operational taxiing solution in the world. We are proud to create this innovative, eco-friendly revolution in commercial aviation and would like to thank Lufthansa for their wonderful support of the TaxiBot certification and validation process.
“The TaxiBot family is expanding with the testing of the Wide Body (WB) model which will operate with all WB families of aircraft, such as the Boeing 747 and Airbus A380. We look forward to the WB certification tests with a Lufthansa Boeing 747-400 and to continuing our long and fruitful co-operation with this leading flagship airline.”
Accordingly, a Memorandum of Understanding was then signed between Lufthansa LEOS and IAI for widebody aircraft certification testing. The test phase will be performed using a retired Boeing 747-400 and is expected to be completed by the end of 2015.
“The development of the TaxiBot represents a milestone in environmentally friendly aircraft ground operations at airports. The use of the aircraft tractor in real flight operations means that we are now taking the next step towards the long-term goal of environmental friendly aircraft taxiing right up to ‘green aircraft handling’,” said Peter Unger, Managing Director of Lufthansa LEOS.