TaxiBot now operational at Frankfurt as Lufthansa and IAI agree to pursue widebody version of green taxiing solution
TaxiBot and a Lufthansa 737-500 at the holding area near to Runway 18
Tue 24 Feb 2015 – The TaxiBot hybrid-electric towing tractor developed by Lufthansa LEOS and aerospace company IAI that transports aircraft towards the runway without the necessity of using the aircraft’s engines is now in regular operational use at Frankfurt Airport. This follows certification by the European safety agency EASA for use with Boeing 737 aircraft, which is expected to be extended to include the Airbus A320 narrowbody family by mid-year. Trials so far show average savings of between 50 and 100 kilogrammes of fuel per 737 taxi-out, says Lufthansa. Confident of success for the pilot-controlled vehicle, the two partners have now signed a MoU to start certification testing for a widebody version, which is expected to have even greater fuel-saving and environmental benefits.
As the aircraft does not need to start its main engines until the TaxiBot has reached a holding area near to the take-off runway, in Frankfurt’s case Runway 18, significant greenhouse gas emission savings can be realised at busy main airports, and ground noise is also reduced by around 50%
According to Peter Unger, Managing Director of Lufthansa LEOS, the ground services arm of the airline, the potential fuel savings for using TaxiBot to transport all Lufthansa aircraft to the runway at Frankfurt would amount to between 6,000 and 11,000 tonnes per year, equivalent to annual CO2 savings of 19,000-35,000 tonnes. Because of the logistics involved and the fact that taxi-out times are twice as long than for aircraft taxiing in after landing, and so have greater fuel and environmental savings, TaxiBot operations are for now only being used for outbound aircraft at Frankfurt.
The process involves a safety driver in the TaxiBot cabin encasing the nose landing gear into a cradle at the rear of the vehicle while the aircraft is at the stand and then performing a normal pushback. The pilot control mode is then activated which allows the pilot complete command to steer and control the aircraft throughout taxiing to the holding area, during which speeds up to 23 knots can be reached. While the TaxiBot and aircraft are uncoupled, which can take around three minutes, the aircraft’s engines are readied before final taxiing to the runway and joining the queue for take-off.
“The development of the TaxiBot represents a milestone in environmentally friendly aircraft ground operations at airports,” Unger told a media gathering at Frankfurt Airport last week. “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 environmentally friendly taxiing right up to green aircraft handling.”
Yehoshua Eldar, IAI Executive VP and head of the TaxiBot programme steering committee, said the widebody model would operate with all types, including the Boeing 747 and Airbus A380. The certification testing will be carried out using a Lufthansa 747-400 and is expected to be completed by the end of this year.
Manufacture of TaxiBot vehicles will be undertaken by a third partner in the project, airport ground support equipment manufacturer TLD, which inaugurated a new assembly line last November in Sorigny, France. After-sales support will be handled by TLD, which operates from 33 worldwide sites
As well as at Frankfurt, TaxiBot is claimed to provide similar benefits at other large airports in Europe, although runway layout and a holding area adjacent to the take-off runway to allow for the uncoupling have to be factored in. A simulation study at Paris CDG found TaxiBot operations were compatible with the airport’s infrastructure, did not impact capacity handling and did not induce perturbations in aircraft flows. A TLD executive said other European airports had expressed interest, including London’s Heathrow.
Seeking market opportunities further afield, particularly in Asia and North America, the partners are currently working towards approval from the FAA and the Chinese CAAC.
The TaxiBot faces competition from other green taxiing solutions that are being developed elsewhere, notably onboard electrical systems from a Safran/Honeywell partnership and also WheelTug that propel either the nose wheel or the main landing gear. However, points out Eldar, TaxiBot is the only one to be certified and in operation, does not require aircraft modification and adds no weight to the aircraft.
TaxiBot is part of the ‘E-PORT AN’ electric mobility project running at Frankfurt, involving the airport’s operator Fraport and Lufthansa, as well as state authorities, and has the support of the German transport ministry.