Hailing the Taxibot

Airbus is testing a robotic tractor that could save the aviation industry billions of pounds a year by removing the need to turn on an aircraft’s engines during taxiing.

Designed by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), the ‘Taxibot’ is an automated tow-bar-less tractor attached to an aircraft’s front landing gear for use during aircraft dispatch. Unlike existing systems, Taxibot can be controlled by the aircraft pilot and eliminates the need for a separate driver.

Marc Lieber, director of International Cooperation and Partnership at Airbus, said: ‘The system is sensitive to what the pilot is willing to do. If the pilot wants to push on the brake, then the system will not drag it anymore and the pilot can stop the aircraft via the main landing gear as usual. The effect on the aeroplane is minimal in terms of stress.’

IAI claims that no other power from the plane, other than the aircraft’s auxiliary power unit (APU), will be needed to drive the aircraft down the taxiway. With aircraft engines able to burn up to one tonne of fuel every 17 minutes, Airbus estimates that use of this system could save the industry 18m tonnes of fuel per year.

Christian Scherer, Airbus’ executive vice-president of Strategy and Future Programmes, said: ‘The real driver here is to be able to reduce the amount of fuel consumed by aeroplanes on the ground. Large aircraft engines are made to propel aeroplanes in the air but they are fairly inefficient on the ground and burn huge amounts of fuel just to move the aeroplane slowly around the taxiways. On a yearly basis industry wide you could save billions of dollars of fuel if this system was widespread around the world.’

Airbus has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with IAI to explore and develop the system further. The group plans to carry out testing of the Taxibot on an A340-600 aircraft in Toulouse later this year.

Ellie Zolfagharifard