(image: Kalmar Motor)
Wed 30 Oct 2013 – Lufthansa Technik’s ground handling subsidiary Lufthansa LEOS has signed a contract with Sweden’s Kalmar Motor to join in developing an electrically-powered hybrid towbarless tractor capable of towing aircraft as large as the Airbus A380 for distances up to seven kilometres. If it proves successful, the electric tractor would be the first of its kind in this widebody performance category and the aim is to eventually replace the diesel-powered tow tractors currently in use. The tractor, called the eSchlepper, will be part of Lufthansa’s Airport eMove project that is developing a number of green ground handling initiatives at Frankfurt Airport in conjunction with the airport’s operator Fraport and government. Lufthansa LEOS is also working with Israel’s IAI, Airbus and TLD Group to develop a semi-robotic, pilot-controlled vehicle called TaxiBot that is designed to transport airplanes from airport gate to runway.
The all-wheel drive electric vehicle designed by Kalmar Motor, which already manufactures and sells smaller hybrid tractors to airlines, ground handlers and airports, will be sold to customers worldwide as the TBL-800. The vehicle, capable of moving aircraft with a maximum take-off weight of up to 600 tonnes, is powered by lithium-ion batteries and charged externally from the power grid. In an emergency, the batteries can also be charged during operations with the help of a fully-integrated diesel engine. The tractor can be used for a full 8-hour shift without recharge, claims Kalmar, because of the high capacity batteries and low energy consumption.
Lufthansa’s input on the specification will focus on the design of the lift mechanism for the aircraft’s nose wheels.
The first prototype is planned to be delivered to Lufthansa LEOS at the end of 2014 and will be used at Frankfurt for repositioning and maintenance towing of heavy long-haul aircraft. Lufthansa refuels its Airbus A380 aircraft at the A380 hangar at the south side of the airport, a distance of around 7km from the terminal.
“If, as is expected, the eSchlepper proves itself in operational as well as commercial terms, we will move our entire fleet of tugs to electric power, step by step,” said Lufthansa LEOS Managing Director Alexander Stern.
The Airport eMove initiative aims to implement electromobility projects of the future to make aircraft towing and surface-bound traffic as environmentally-friendly as possible, says Lufthansa.
Meanwhile, testing has been taking place since June at Frankfurt Airport of IAI’s TaxiBot vehicle using a Lufthansa Boeing 737, with support from Boeing and certifying authorities EASA and CAAI. Following certification, expected at the end of 2013, in-service evaluation will be conducted on commercial flights departing from Frankfurt.
TaxiBot can be used with any type of airplane – narrow or wide body – and does not require any modification to the airplane’s systems, providing power to move the airplane at speeds of up to 23 knots. Without using the airplane’s engines, it allows the pilot full control of the system and operation is performed using the tiller and brake pedals, as in regular taxiing.
IAI estimates a typical Boeing 747 uses one ton (1,250 litres) of fuel and emits 3.2 tons of CO2 in a 17-minute taxi before take-off, compared to TaxiBot’s 25-30 litres of fuel and less than 60kgs of CO2.
With a potential market estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars in the first decade, IAI expects to establish the TaxiBot Company next year to market, sell and service the vehicle, and says it is in advanced negotiations with several potential customers. Return on investment is claimed to be less than two years.
TaxiBot on test at Frankfurt Airport (photo: IAI):
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