July 09, 2012
Several companies are working to bring electric drive taxiing systems to market in the next few years. As these products promise to greatly reduce the cost of moving airliners around airports, interest from the airlines is rising and the first commitments have been made.
Airlines are seriously considering the idea of electrical drive systems mounted on the landing gear that would allow aircraft to taxi without running their engines. The auxiliary power unit would be used to run an electric motor mounted on the undercarriage, which in turn rotates the wheels.
Such systems can be fitted to either the nose or main landing gear. They have the potential to shave up to 80% off the fuel bill while aircraft are moving on the ground, as well as reducing associated powerplant maintenance costs and exposure to foreign object damage. Aircraft would also no longer require ground tugs for push-back, potentially reducing delays. Noise levels at airports would also decrease considerably.
The proportionally longer time that short-haul aircraft spend taxiing compared to long-haul aircraft makes them the initial target for such systems. The market is potentially huge, as the system can be installed on both new and existing aircraft.
Several companies are investigating and actively marketing electric taxiing systems. The WheelTug nose landing gear unit was developed by Borealis Exploration from 2005, when it tested the concept on an Air Canada Boeing 767. Further trials in collaboration with Prague Airport Consulting took place in December 2010 using a Boeing 737, and the system is currently being marketed.
In June 2011 the German aerospace research agency DLR tested an Airbus A320 with an electrically driven nose wheel. Safran and Honeywell have also been working on a system since November 2011 and will install a prototype in an A320 during 2014. Service entry is expected two years later.
During December 2011, L-3 Communications, Lufthansa and Airbus tested a main landing gear system at Frankfurt. L-3 Communications and Crane Aerospace & Electronics announced during the Farnborough air show that they have reached an agreement to develop and market the GreenTaxi electric taxi system.
Currently, WheelTug is the only one with commitments from the airlines. In March it signed letters of intent with Jet Airways and Israir Airlines. Alitalia, however, become the launch customer in May, when it signed to have WheelTug installed in 100 of its A320 family aircraft.