EasyJet becomes first airline to join with Safran and Honeywell on development of electric green taxiing system
Mon 20 Feb 2012 – Low-cost airline easyJet is to collaborate with Safran and Honeywell in supporting the development and trial of an innovative system that allows aircraft to taxi without requiring the use of aircraft engines or a tug to manoeuvre it in and out of stands. First operational trials are expected to start in 2013 and the two aerospace manufacturers are looking to offer the electric green taxiing system (EGTS) either on new aircraft or as a retrofit solution to in-service aircraft by 2016. EasyJet’s involvement will help establish whether the estimated savings in fuel and emissions can be realised and will also quantify other benefits. The UK’s biggest short-haul airline will also assist in establishing the standard operational procedures for aircraft equipped with the system.
The EGTS uses the aircraft’s Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) to power motors in the main wheels, with each of the powered wheels equipped with an electromechanical actuator. Unique power electronics and system controllers provide pilots with total control of the aircraft’s speed, direction and braking during taxi operations.
“EasyJet is always seeking innovative ways of reducing our environmental footprint as well as our operating costs so this technology is of great interest to us,” commented Ian Davies, the airline’s Head of Engineering and Maintenance.
“This collaboration with Honeywell and Safran allows us to bring our huge experience of high frequency and high levels of operational performance to the partnership to ensure that the solution meets our needs.”
Initial tests on an Airbus A320 have already started in Montepellier, France, to evaluate runway conditions and calculate the necessary loads for moving the aircraft on the ground.
Honeywell and Safran say the technology not only offers fuel and environmental benefits but also improved on-time performance, critical for a low-cost carrier like easyJet, as aircraft will be able to ‘pushback and go’ more quickly, thus reducing both gate and tarmac congestion.
The two partners say short-haul aircraft can burn as much as five million tons of fuel per year and their system could result in savings of up to 4% of total block fuel consumption, amounting to several hundred thousand dollars per aircraft per year.
Similar technology is also being developed by a consortium that includes L-3, Lufthansa and airport operator Fraport, with support from Airbus. Late last year, high performance electric motors were installed by Lufthansa Technik engineers on an A320 and tested over a one-week period. The data was to be evaluated by the partners before deciding on whether to proceed with further development of a prototype.
A company that has been working even longer on developing a system that enables aircraft to be electrically driven from the terminal gate to the take-off runway, and upon landing from runway exit to the gate, is Gibraltar-based WheelTug. The patented electric drive system uses high-performance electric motors, installed in the nose landing gear wheels of a an aircraft, to provide full mobility while on the ground without the use of the aircraft’s engines or tugs.
The system is being developed initially for the Boeing 737NG, with systems for other models of commercial and military aircraft to follow. WheelTug claim annual savings of more than $500,000 per aircraft can be achieved, plus substantial reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions.
Last November, the company signed a Letter of Intent with EL AL Israel Airlines under which the carrier will obtain a substantial part of the initial production of WheelTug’s drive system for its own aircraft, subject to financial and operational feasibility checks and regulatory approvals.