The idea has been around for a while, but engineers weren’t able to make it work. At least as far as Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) knows, the Taxibot Dispatch Towing system is the world’s first tugboat-like way to tow both wide and narrow body commercial airplanes to taxi to and from the gate and the runway without the use of their jet engines.
Consider that a Boeing 747 can burn through a ton of jet fuel for every 17 minutes it’s taxiing: I spoke with the project leader at IAI, and I learned how the TaxiBot can save billions of dollars of runway fuel, and greenhouses gases.
Instead of running the engine as the plane taxis to the runway — and if you’ve ever been stuck sitting in a plane on the runway for three hours, you know the problem all too well — jets outfitted with Taxibot won’t have to turn on the engine until minutes before takeoff.
Developed and tested in a joint venture with Airbus, the environmentally friendly semi-robotic towing system could potentially reduce annual fuel costs from $8 billion to less than $2 billion, carbon dioxide emissions from 18 billion tons to less than two million tons per year and noise emissions by a significant margin.
“This is an outcome of the very innovation process we are doing at IAI,” says Ran Braier, Taxibot project director and civil robotics director in the company’s Lahav Division. He notes that a team of about 26 people, mostly engineers, worked on building the Taxibot.
The business model is flexible. The Taxibot could be owned by the airline, provided as a service by the airport, or owned and operated by privately held ground-crew companies.
With an estimated cost of about $3 million each, the company aims to sell some 1,500 Taxibots by the year 2020. The return on investment for airlines buying the device directly is expected to be quite rapid — less than two years, depending on the size of the plane.