About the only time the pilot is not in command is when an algorithm kicks in to keep the Taxibot at a safe, steady rate of movement without undue stopping and starting while waiting in line with other aircraft.
Longer Tows: The “rotating turret” description doesn’t quite do justice to the Taxibot’s engineering since it also acts like a pendulum protecting the plane’s delicate nose landing gear during acceleration and stopping. And when the pilot does apply the brakes, the plane’s own braking system absorbs the force rather than the nose gear.
“The plane brakes itself,” said Fadi Anbouba, vice president of sales and service for TLD America, “which is exactly what those brakes were designed to do. By protecting the nose gear that allows us to tow the plane a much longer distance than with a conventional towbarless tractor.”
And with that “dispatch towing” opportunity comes billions saved in fuel and emissions otherwise burned each year just to move aircraft to runways.
During a briefing, Braier outlined the economic and environmental benefits of the Taxibot system.
By the end of the decade, planes using their own power to taxi on the ground will cost airlines around $7.3 billion in annual fuel costs. That number could be cut, Braier said, to less than $3 billion using the Taxibot system.
With no assist from the aircraft’s engines, the Taxibot uses hybrid diesel electric power to drive motors in its wheels and produces a negligible 132 pounds of emissions during a tow. To make the point perfectly clear during our demonstration, the A320 that took us for a ride had its engines removed (although added ballast on each wing equaled the weight of those missing engines).
Braier also estimated the Taxibot has the potential to significantly reduce carbon emissions. Just the fuel saved alone by using the Taxibot represents 22 million tons of emissions.
In addition, an aircraft with engines running is particularly vulnerable to FOD damage. Braier said the Taxibot system could cut down on the $700 million in FOD damage projected by the end of the decade since half of that damage is done when the plane is either at the gate with engines on or taxiing under its own power.
The Taxibot is expected to come in the narrow-body aircraft model we saw demonstrated in France, and another model to handle wide-body aircraft.
The narrow-body model is expected to be priced at $1.5 million and $3 million for the larger model. IAI believes that each vehicle could handle about 20 aircraft daily. Simulation and studies conducted by IAI show that little or no modifications are required by airports, and that there is no overall impact on taxiing time when operating a mix of aircraft taxiing either with or without the Taxibot. There are no modifications that need to be done to aircraft to accommodate the Taxibot.
TLD plans to focus initially on making the narrow-body model and anticipates them to enter the market in 2013. Certainly, a prime candidate would be airlines operating from major European airports where tough environmental mandates, such as carbon taxes, are in place.
Later that same week our media demo took place, senior reps and test pilots from various airlines and ground companies including Lufthansa; KLM; British Airways; China Eastern Airlines; China South Airlines; Federal Express; Air France; United Airways; WestJet Aeroport de Paris; and Swissport International, traveled to the airport to evaluate the vehicle.