Is It Time To Replace Your Towbar?

The importance of high-quality towbar products is often paid little attention to by aircraft towing peronnel. The same can be said for the operations managers and purchasing agents since no other piece of equipment seems to be so price-sensitive to purchasers.

Buyers often search for the cheapest option on the market or any used alternatives. The importance of a piece of equipment that secures a $40 million jet seems to escape the minds of many in our industry. That is, until it’s too late.

The aforementioned lack of appreciation for a quality towbar will also often find its way into the maintenance department. I have been on hundreds of ramps across the world, and seen thousands of towbars that are well past their prime and should have been retired long ago.

Towbars truly are the “neglected step-child” of the GSE world. But maintenance on the only piece of equipment securing the jet to the tug is just as important as the tug itself.

A proper preventative maintenance schedule should never be neglected on towbars or heads.

As with all aircraft handling equipment, towbars and heads are subject to wear and damage over time.

I am frequently asked, “When is it time to replace my towbar”? Some applications, such as private hangars have lower frequency of aircraft movement and, therefore, less towbar use. Other applications, such as busy FBOs or airline terminal gates have more frequent towbar use.

Operators should always perform and document their scheduled PM inspections and repairs. Using common sense while reviewing equipment wear, past repairs and records as well as the frequency of use at your operation will help for your organization to develop an internal Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) that addresses equipment condition, safety factors and financial questions.


During the operational life of your towbar, the following basic PM procedures should be performed on a daily basis:

  • Check all welds on towbar for cracks and ensure towbar shows no signs of damage and is straight (dings, dents, heavy scratches, “bowing” etc.).
  • Check that running gear (wheels, axles, casters) and handles are secure and undamaged.
  • Check lunette assembly for free play (1/4” is normal) and the rotation of the lunette ring (30 degrees is normal).
  • Check shear pins for stress. Replace if cracked, broken, or bent. Replace spare shear pins if missing and verify remaining spare shear pins can be found on head and/or towbar.
  • Verify that the head end of the towbar is clean and undamaged.
  • Ensure lanyards securely attach ball lock pins to the towbar (and that the ball lock pins insert and lock correctly).

In addition to the above daily PM, every month or quarter the following basic procedures should be performed:

  • Check lunette ring condition for wear, deformation or bending.
  • Check lunette rotation limit, 30 degree should be the maximum.
  • Check shear pins or shear bolts for wear and replace as required (if equipped).
  • Check casters and lubricate.
  • Check main wheels and lubricate.
  • Check towbar handles and securing hardware.
  • Check lunette bolts and torque per manufacturers recommendation.
  • Check and tighten all other fasteners.
  • Clean and touch up towbar or head paint as required to maintain the towbar’s appearance and prevent rust or corrosion.

Additional PM recommendations can be found in the IATA Airport Handling Manual (AHM 990).

Complete information on preventative maintenance programs are detailed in the operations manual.

If you feel your towbar may need replacing, then you should replace it. The average towbar will only cost an operation a fraction of a dollar a day to operate. A small number when you consider the importance of a towbar and how frequently they are used throughout the day.