Lufthansa LEOS, a subsidiary of Lufthansa Technik AG, has started a new era in aviation. It has commenced operations with the innovative TaxiBot aircraft tractor, developed by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) with Lufthansa LEOS’ extensive support and cooperation. TaxiBot (NB) is a towbar-less 800-hp strong hybrid-electric aircraft tractor, controlled by the pilot and intended for towing aircraft between the gate and the runway with the aircraft’s engines turned-off.
After extensive testing, the TaxiBot will now be used in real flight operations at Frankfurt Airport.
At a media event held at Frankfurt Airport on 19 February, the TaxiBot’s towing procedures were demonstrated for local and international journalists, while taxiing a Lufthansa Boeing 737 to the take-off position.
“The Lufthansa Group is setting global standards in sustainable mobility. With innovations like the TaxiBot, we are not only helping to conserve fuel but are also making an important contribution towards reducing noise and exhaust emissions at airports,” said Kay Kratky, member of the Lufthansa German Airlines Board – Operations & Hub Frankfurt. The use of the TaxiBot at Lufthansa’s Frankfurt hub can save up to 2,700 tonnes of fuel on long-haul flights per year.
“IAI, along with its partner TLD, has been cooperating since 2007 with Lufthansa LEOS in the development of the TaxiBot, with the support of both OEMs Airbus and Boeing,” said Yehoshua Eldar, IAI Executive VP, and head of the TaxiBot program steering committee. “TaxiBot is the only certified and operational alternative taxiing solution in the world. We are proud to create this innovative, eco-friendly revolution in commercial aviation and would like to thank Lufthansa for their wonderful support of the TaxiBot certification and validation process. The TaxiBot family is expanding with the testing of the Wide Body (WB) model which will operate with all WB families of aircraft such as the Boeing 747 and Airbus A380. We look forward to the WB certification tests with a Lufthansa Boeing 747-400 and to continuing our long and fruitful cooperation with this leading flagship airline.”
Accordingly, a memorandum of understanding was signed between Lufthansa LEOS and IAI for wide body aircraft certification testing. The test phase will be performed using a Boeing 747-400 and is expected to be completed by the end of 2015.
“The development of the TaxiBot represents a milestone in environmentally friendly aircraft ground operations at airports. 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 environmental friendly aircraft taxiing right up to ‘green aircraft handling’,” said Peter Unger, Managing Director of Lufthansa LEOS.
A special nose wheel cradle in the TaxiBot registers all the steering movements and transfers these to navigate the tractor’s eight wheels. This enables the pilot to steer the tractor from the cockpit using “Pilot Control Mode” after pushing back from the gate, until it is released at the runway. The aircraft engines are not required to start up until the TaxiBot is separated from the aircraft.
The TaxiBot is part of the “E-PORT AN” project at Frankfurt Airport. Partners of the initiative include the state of Hesse, Fraport AG, the Lufthansa Group and the Rhine-Main model region. As part of this project electric mobility ventures for the future are realised in order to make towing procedures for aircraft and ground vehicles more environmentally friendly. The projects are supported by the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure.