A semi-robotic, pilot-controlled towing tractor developed by Israel Aerospace Industries known as Taxibot was deployed for use Thursday for the first time at Frankfurt airport, raising hopes that its use may become more widespread as airline companies seek to reduce fuel emissions and costs.
The pushback tractors currently used in all airports worldwide only move aircraft from the terminal itself, but do not eliminate the need for planes to then taxi themselves across airports — a costly and inefficient procedure.
The Taxibot eliminates this drawback by towing loaded planes to the start of the runway with their engines switched off, in what analysts say cuts fuel costs, reduces airport carbon emissions and can eliminate bottlenecks in the gate area.
According to IAI, a standard Boeing 747 expends an average of 1.25 tons of jet fuel in the 17 minutes prior to takeoff. Taxibot, however, cuts this figure to a mere 25-30 liters per plane.
One Frankfurt airport official quipped Thursday, “planes are made to take off and fly, not to travel on the ground [like a car].”
The machine is initially being put to use with aircraft belonging to Lufthansa, Germany’s flag carrier airline.
“By 2050, we want to reduce our fuel emissions by 50 percent,” said Kay Kratky, a board member at Lufthansa. “The Taxibot will enable us to save more than 2,700 tons of jet fuel per year in Frankfurt airport alone.”
Following an intensive period of testing and tweaking, the tractor, which is currently being used with 737 aircraft only, was given the green light by European aviation authorities.
“Taxibot is the only alternative aircraft transport solution in the world that received a license [for use in airports],” said Yehoshua (Shuki) Eldar, IAI’s Corporate VP, in a modest ceremony in Frankfurt.
“We have created an innovative and environmentally friendly revolution in the world of commercial aviation,” he said.
IAI is checking options to expand the venture by signing on with Air France at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris.