Lufthansa Sees Plane-Taxi Towtruck Approval in Two Months

Deutsche Lufthansa AG, Europe’s second-biggest airline, said a hybrid-power towtruck it’s testing for extended taxiing of planes at Frankfurt airport may win regulatory approval for commercial use in two months.

The technology has the potential to save 1.9 million euros ($2.57 million) a year in long-haul operations at the airport alone, the company said in a presentation at an industry event.

Lufthansa’s project is part of a 15.7 million-euro program at Frankfurt airport, Europe’s third-busiest, to switch to alternative energy for ground-handling vehicles to reduce fuel costs, exhaust emissions and noise. The diesel-electric TaxiBot tractor has passed European Aviation Safety Agency tests and now needs certification, Lufthansa said.

The towtruck, developed by Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd., French ground-handling equipment maker TLD Group and the Lufthansa Engineering & Operational Services unit, pushes the airliner back from the airport gate as normal. Instead of then leaving the plane to taxi under its own power, the vehicle tows it to the runway under the pilot’s remote control while the jet engines remain off.

The procedure cuts noise by more than half and fuel use by 85 percent compared to conventional taxiing using the plane turbines, and it speeds up gate clearance by 2 minutes, Lufthansa said. It also reduces the risk of the jet vortex sucking in foreign objects and damaging the engine.

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