TaxiBot green taxiing vehicle receives European approval for Boeing 737 commercial operations
TaxiBot undergoing Lufthansa testing
Wed 12 Nov 2014 – Taxibot, one of the green aircraft taxiing solutions currently in development, has become the first to receive official certification that will allow the semi-robotic vehicle to be used in taking commercial flights involving Boeing 737 airplanes between terminal gates and runways without using the aircraft’s engines. The Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) was issued by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the Civil Aviation Authority of Israel (CAAI), where the system originates. In-service evaluation is expected to start next month with regular Lufthansa flights departing out of Frankfurt. The TaxiBot developers estimate a typical fuel consumption for a 17-minute taxi before take-off is around one ton (1,250 litres) of fuel, emitting nearly 3.2 tons of CO2, and claim their pilot-controlled vehicle can reduce this by 85%.
Since 2008, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and its partner, French ground support equipment manufacturer TLD, have been working with Lufthansa LEOS in the development of TaxiBot, along with support from both Boeing and Airbus. Lufthansa has integrated TaxiBot into its E-PORT AN project, which involves developing electro-mobility concepts for aircraft taxiing and towing at Frankfurt Airport.
IAI dismisses claims that such a system could cause runway delays at busy airports due to the TaxiBot being coupled or uncoupled and main engines readied, as the TaxiBot takes the aircraft to an existing designated holding area prior to take-off. As well as fuel savings, IAI says recent tests at Frankfurt have shown TaxiBot taxiing reduces noise levels by 50%, to below 80dB, compared to normal taxiing with jet engines.
Airbus NTO (No Technical Objection) approval is expected to be issued soon that would extend operational testing to Airbus A320 aircraft. The two narrow-body airplane families comprise over 70% of the world’s commercial aircraft fleet and IAI says it is in advanced negotiations with several potential customers. Lufthansa will be the launch customer.
The company will not disclose how much TaxiBot will cost but says it will be more expensive than a standard towing vehicle used to transport aircraft for maintenance purposes. Such vehicles, it says, cost around $800,000 but can only transport aircraft at a considerably lower speed than TaxiBot’s 23 knots. Airlines should expect a return on their investment within 18 months, said an IAI representative.
Last month, the TaxiBot partners signed a MoU agreement with Air France for evaluation of a widebody version at Paris CDG Airport (see story), with the aim of achieving STC approval by the end of 2015.
“EASA certification is a major milestone for the TaxiBot programme,” said IAI CEO Joseph Weiss. “This innovative system will create an eco-friendly revolution in the commercial aviation industry and will save millions of dollars in fuel savings for airlines, ground handling companies and airports worldwide.”