A new tractor concept has been validated during initial testing by Airbus and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), which opens the way for potentially more efficient aircraft taxiing at airports – resulting in reduced fuel consumption, lower air and noise pollution, and increased ground traffic safety.
IAI’s “Taxibot” vehicle is a towbar-less tractor that is expected to completely eliminate the need to activate an aircraft’s main engines during taxi. Its initial testing, using an Airbus-owned A340-600 demonstrator aircraft, was conducted from March until earlier this month.
In operational use, the Taxibot would bring its aircraft to the runway area, at which point the tractor would be separated and the aircraft’s engines activated for takeoff. Moreover, employing Taxibot during taxi-in after landing would allow pilots to power down the engines shortly after landing once a Taxibot is connected to the aircraft.
Taxibot is designed to be used with the full range of in-service aircraft without physical modification to their landing gear. The tractor is fitted with hardware and software that enables its use for dispatch towing operations under pilot control. In addition to a standard “steer-by-wire” version, a combined navigation guidance system using approved airport map databases also is being considered for automated pilot-supervised operation.
Following the Airbus/IAI demonstrator tests, a joint venture may be created to produce and sell Taxibot tractors to airports, airlines and ground-handling companies. Its certification is expected to occur in the second half of 2012, with two variants envisaged: one optimised for smaller narrowbody airliners, and another for larger widebodies.
Traditional taxiing movements at airports on aircraft main engine power uses a significant amount of fuel, creates CO2 emissions, and generates the risk of foreign object damage (FOD) from the effects of jet exhaust.