Alitalia becomes launch customer for WheelTug's innovative aircraft taxiing electric drive system
Wed 9 May 2012 – WheelTug has signed a partnership agreement with Alitalia to install 100 of its innovative electric drive systems on 100 of the Italian airline’s A320 aircraft and so become the launch customer for the patented system. The equipment allows aircraft to taxi both forwards without the use of main engines and backwards without the use of a tow tug. The new technology allows up to an 80 per cent reduction in the fuel consumption for aircraft ground movements, with a significant reduction in cost, noise and environmental impact, claims WheelTug. In March, the company signed Letters of Intent with Israir Airlines for 10 systems for its A320 fleet, subject to financial and operational feasibility checks and regulatory approvals, and also with Jet Airways, giving the Indian airline the right to lease systems for installation on its Boeing 737NG aircraft.
The WheelTug system consists of an electric motor – called Chorus – installed in the aircraft nose gear and powered by the Auxiliary Power Unit, which provides energy to the on-board systems when the main engines are off. The Chorus motor allows movement of the aircraft from the departure gate to the runway and, upon landing, from runway exit to the stand. The resulting improvements in efficiency, flexibility, fuel savings and reduced engine foreign object damage should yield projected savings of around $500,000 on operating expenses per aircraft per year, claims the company, plus substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
WheelTug says the Boeing 737NG burns around 21 to 24 pounds of fuel per minute in ground operations. In comparison, the same aircraft equipped with a WheelTug electric drive unit requires just four pounds, an 80% reduction.
Trials of the system have taken place at Prague Airport in collaboration with Prague Airport Consulting, reports WheelTug, with encouraging results. Benefits accruing to the airport include reduced noise pollution and emissions, especially NOx and CO2 by at least 67%. Other benefits include increased capacity utilisation and a higher number of movements on the taxiways.
At Prague Airport, it is estimated gate and taxiway throughput would increase by a minimum of 2.7%. The use of the system should also significantly reduce flight turnaround time as aircraft do not need to wait for tugs and the attachment/detachment process. By eliminating pushback tug use, a flight could save a minimum of five minutes.
“We have been supporting WheelTug in its electric taxi project since 2010,” said Jiri Pos, Director General of Prague Airport. “We always believed that this is not just a project for the airlines, but also airports like ours can benefit as well. Although being green and environmentally friendly is very nice, we are also very happy that WheelTug technology is about to bring us very tangible economic benefits.”