Israeli-Made ‘Taxibot’ Makes Operational Debut at Frankfurt Airport
Israel’s Taxibot remote-controlled tow truck allows the pilot to drive the plane from the terminal to the runway, without having to burn considerable amounts of fuel.
By Aharon Lapidot
An Israeli-made robotic airplane tow vehicle made its debut at Frankfurt Airport on Thursday in a ceremony attended by journalists from around the world.
The Israel Aviation Industry’s Taxibot towing a Lufthansa passenger plane – Photo: Aharon Lapidot
The Israel Aviation Industry’s “Taxibot” was designed to ferry the most commonly used passenger airplane, the Boeing 737, from its terminal or parking, to the runway. The Taxibot was first tested on a commercial Lufthansa flight, and later, after a thorough and prolonged review, was approved by Israeli and European aviation authorities. During Thursday’s modest ceremony a memorandum of understanding was signing between IAI and Lufthansa to develop a larger model of the Taxibot to be able to support bigger aircraft such as the Boeing 747 and Airbus A380.
The Taxibot is an upgrade and hopeful replacement for the traditional airplane towing vehicle, known as a pushback truck. The pushback trucks would pull an airplane away from a terminal to a safe distance so that the pilots could then use the airplanes thrusters to maneuver the plane without fear of jet exhaust damaging the terminal or spreading debris.
The drive from the terminal to the runaway burns a lot of fuel. The Taxibot provides a better solution: instead of just pushing the plane back so that it can taxi to the runway by itself, the Taxibot allows the pilot to drive the plane from cockpit by remote control and take it from the terminal to the runway, without having to use the plane’s engine. Using Taxibot means less air pollution and reduction in fuel consumption.
“Taxibot is the only airplane towing alternative in the world to be given a license from aviation authorities,” IAI Corporate Vice President and Business Development head Shuki Eldar said. “We have started an eco-friendly revolution in the commercial aviation industry.”
Lufthansa sees Taxibot as part of its efforts to reduce noise and air pollution. “We set ourselves the goal that by 2050 we will reduce our CO2 emission by 50 percent. The goal is to save fuel, reduce CO2 emissions and minimize the noise level, the Taxibot helps us do that,” Lufthansa board member Kay Kratky said.
Kratky said the use of Taxibot at Frankfurt Airport alone will save 2,700 tons of fuel each year. “A plane is meant to take off and fly, not drive on the ground,” Lufthansa’s manager for Taxibot operations said.
Taxibot has garnered the attention of other aviation companies as well. IAI and French avitation support equipment company TLD signed a memorandum of understanding late in 2014 with Air France to assess whether Taxibot is applicable to Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris.
IAI began developing Taxibot in 2007 alongside TLD, the world leader in the airplane tow truck industry and Lufthansa — LEOS, Lufthansa’s ground support equipment branch.
Airbus and Boeing have also actively supported the project.
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