Lufthansa Tests Electric Taxiing to Reduce Fuel Spending

Deutsche Lufthansa AG, Europe’s second-largest airline, is testing electric ground-handling vehicles at Frankfurt airport to help cut a fuel bill that reached a record 7.39 billion euros ($9.7 billion) in 2012.

Lufthansa is taking part in a 15.7 million-euro project at the airport, Europe’s third busiest by passenger numbers, to use electric service vehicles such as pusher tugs for plane taxiing, and to upgrade landing gear, Germany’s Transport Ministry said in a statement. Government funding amounts to 8.1 million euros.

“Electric vehicles used in ground handling and taxiing of planes can noticeably reduce noise and emissions around an airport,” Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer said in an e-mail. “That’s an important contribution to environmental and climate protection.”

The price of the kerosene used as jet fuel reached a 4 1/2-year high in September, though it has fallen this year in Europe amid recessions in the region that have prompted carriers to reduce flights. Cologne, Germany-based Lufthansa predicted in May that it will spend 7 billion euros this year on fuel.

Chief Executive Officer Christoph Franz has a target of adding 1.5 billion euros to Lufthansa’s earnings by 2015 in the airline’s most ambitious efficiency push ever. Fuel was the company’s biggest single cost last year, accounting for 23 percent of operating expenses.

Government Strategy

The project in Frankfurt is part of a 1.5 billion-euro campaign by the German government to subsidize electric mobility. Partners include airport operator Fraport AG and Lufthansa’s LSG Sky Chefs catering unit. In addition to equipment to move aircraft, electric vehicles being tested include units that load catering goods onto planes or carry ground-handling crews.

Researchers will evaluate the project to allow results to be applied elsewhere and in other processes, the ministry said. Pusher tugs developed by Lufthansa and Swedish manufacturer Kalmar Motor AB will be capable of handling as much as 570 metric tons, enough to pull an Airbus SAS double-decker A380.

Spokesmen for Lufthansa and Fraport declined to provide details on the electric-vehicle initiative before a press conference scheduled for June 10.

Air Berlin Plc, Germany’s second-largest carrier, said yesterday that it’s planning to work with supplier WheelTug Plc on an electric-drive system for landing gear on its Boeing Co. and Airbus single-aisle aircraft to reduce the use of plane engines for movements on the ground.

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