With the certification process of the Taxibot moving to conclusion, the ambitious program undertaken by IAI, TLD and Airbus is moving toward reality, with the first towing of operational aircraft expected later this year. “Following the final evaluation testing held in recent weeks we are currently awaiting the formal certification of the Taxibot version for narrowbody aircraft (Boeing 737, Airbus 320).” Ray Brayer, IAI Taxibot program manager told ShowNews. The electric-powered Taxibot developed by the IAI-led team—with Airbus and French ground equipment manufacturer TLD as partners—is expected to receive certification by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in the third quarter of 2014.
The taxing robot introduces an innovative, pragmatic and efficient solution for taxiing airplanes with engines stopped, thus reducing fuel consumption, CO2 emissions and noise illations, and reducing costs. While taxiing, the aircraft with the Taxibot robot is transparent to the pilot, acceleration is performed by the vehicle and steering and braking are controlled by the pilot, using the regular steering and braking pedals.
Relying on Taxibot trailer services, airlines could save half of the costs currently spent on taxiing, by saving 84 percent on fuel and CO2 emissions. Calculations show the system will offer operators return on investment in less than 24 months.
A trailer variant optimized for widebody aircraft is already built and is undergoing integration tests. We are planning to begin towing tests in France next month. “For these tests we are using a 100 ton simulator, which represents the cockpit and nose landing gear functionality of a Boeing 747,” Bryer added. The simulator represents the steering system of the 747 and the loads and moments transferred to the Taxibot during towing of a typical widebody aircraft.
Operational testing in Frankfurt are underway with Taxibot trailers towing a 737 converted by Lufthansa into a Technical Trainer. Towing is done at night, when the airfield is idle. Measurements of acoustic pollution made by the airport authorities have indicated noise levels below 80dB, less than half the conventional noise level.
Once the robotic trailer has received the coveted certification, more operating locations are expected to open, including British Airways at Heathrow, and Air France at Charles de Gaulle airport and at the Changi airport in Singapore. Negotiations with several US operators, including JFK, are also underway.
In November TLD will launch the assembly line for the robotic trailers, preparing for the commercial launch of the system.
According to Brayer, the Taxibot system in its mature phase is entering the market with a significant advantage, as there are no competing systems at such advanced stages. Taxibot has the potential to benefit from exclusivity in the market for quite some time. “The Taxibot system is protected by many patents. Some are already granted; others are in process. Having a system that can be certified to operate with aircraft, without changing the aircraft itself, is a major advantage, enabling the Taxibot to support many new and existing aircraft, from Boeing 737 and A-320 to the 747 and A380,” Brayer explains. “We consider these advantages to become significant barriers to entry for competitors that would enter the market, probably in the next decade, with wheel-integrated electrical propulsion systems. Its unique advantages will enabling the Taxibot team to lead the market and expand it services globally to tap the full market potential.”

How Taxibot works:
The ground vehicle would connect to the nose landing gear of aircraft at the airport gate, and push it back in the same way a conventional tractor does. But instead of disconnecting, Taxibot will continue to move the aircraft, with the landing gear clamped on. Acceleration, steering and braking controls stay in the hands of the pilot. After arriving at the designated location, the Taxibot will release the aircraft and return to another mission, driven by a safety driver.