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TaxiBot: Revolutionizing Aviation Industry
Taxibot is a semi-robotic equipment used to taxi the aircraft from its bay to the take-off zone without using engine power. This process would help save the environment as CO2 emissions corresponding to taxiing of aircraft for every mission would be saved.
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Taxibot is the only alternate taxiing solution recognized in the world. It has led the Indian aviation industry to set an example and promote a greener source of taxiing among other countries. Moreover, India is the first country in the world to use taxibot commercially. As corona has hit us badly, this has fueled the need for the aviation industry to try and save more money (operational cost) wherever possible. There is rising concern for the environment now. With Taxibot's slow start so far, corona can re-open doors for it to be accepted more aggressively by more airlines in the world because they would like to explore more cost saving options. With the advent of the pandemic, there is a huge impact on aviation industry and everything needs realignment now. Fortunately, as taxibot is a sustainable efficiency enhancer for aviation industry, airline partners are more willing to explore with it and its implementation as a tool to reduce their operating costs.
1. IAI: At a glance
IAI is the company which has conceived TaxiBot. IAI provides a wide range of solutions and services for aerial defense - from special mission aircraft and advanced unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to precision-guided munitions. Designing and manufacturing business jets, primary aero-structures, landing gears, servo controls and actuator systems is their specialty. They are also the recognized global leader for aircraft passenger-to-cargo conversions, and provide full MRO services for aircraft, engines and components.
2. KSU Aviation: At a glance
KSU Aviation is a private company which aims to develop environmentally sound technologies for airports and airlines. Providing consultancy to businesses on green aviation solutions, their focus in the present time is to put forward alternate taxiing solutions with the help of latest patented technologies, reducing the adverse effects on the environment due to carbon emissions.
3. About Taxibot:
Aircraft taxiing at airports consume large amounts of fuel, emit tons of CO2, and create excessive noise. The aviation industry demands alternative means to move airplanes from gate to takeoff without using engine power, referred to as dispatch towing. TaxiBot is one such alternative developed by Israel Aerospace Industries and manufactured by TLD in France. It is a semi-robotic towbarless Pilot controlled aircraft equipment. The TaxiBot eliminates the use of airplane engines during taxi-in and until immediately prior to take-off during taxi-out, significantly reducing aircraft fuel usage, emission of CO2 and the risk of foreign object damage(FOD). The TaxiBot is controlled by the pilot from the cockpit using the regular pilot controls and has an 800-HP hybrid engine.
3.1)Mission of TaxiBot
The mission of TaxiBot is to enhance operational efficiency of airports and airlines by incorporating the safe and environment-friendly technologies.
- To significantly reduce greenhouse gases and noise level at airports.
- To dramatically reduce in fuel usage during taxi phase.
- To Reduce instances of Foreign Object Damage (FOD) and that of Jet Blast damage, thereby increasing safety at the apron area
- To Increase operational efficiency and throughput at airport gates.
- Pushback operation and procedures performed by TaxiBot
- It eliminates bottlenecks by taxiing aircraft immediately after pushback
- Taxiing with engines stopped. Engines start shortly before takeoff
- Pilot is In Control at all times using nose wheel tiller and brake pedals (transparent to pilot as in regular taxiing)
The TaxiBot driver performs a normal Push Back of the aircraft in "Driver Control Mode". Immediately after the aircraft is pushed back, he activates the "Pilot Control Mode". Now, the TaxiBot tows the aircraft to the take-off point - steered by the pilot. After the disconnecting near the take-off point, the pilot starts the engines and the TaxiBot returns to its next mission.
In emergency-cases the TaxiBot Driver is able to take over the steering and breaking action to stop the aircraft / TaxiBot combination.
With the help of a tiller in the cockpit, the Nose Landing Gear (NLG) is steered by the Pilot. The Nose Landing Gear itself is seated on a turret platform, which is equipped with sensors. The steering angle of the NLG is then detected by the sensors and the TaxiBot moves accordingly. As the vehicle always pulls slightly forward, the TaxiBot always accelerates to a predefined speed, as soon as the pilot releases the Main Landing Gear brakes.
To stop or reduce the speed of TaxiBot, the Pilot applies the Main Landing Gear brakes. The sensors on the turret platform also monitor this procedure.
3.5) Conventional vs. TaxiBot operations
Non TaxiBot Operations takes more time at the apron area due to multiple activities being performed (which includes Push back, Pull Forward, Engine Startup and Stabilization). Conventional Towbar tractor used for pushback is performed at a much slower speed as compared to TaxiBot operations while during taxibot operations change of Modes from Driver to Pilot Control is instantaneous, thereby allowing the Pilot to take control and commence taxing without waiting at Tug Disconnect Point. There is a clear saving of ~4-5 minutes per departure taxiing. Further to this TaxiBoting had also assisted in faster clearing of Apron Area, thereby allowing the next incoming aircraft to be positioned faster without holding.
3.6) Economic Benefits of TaxiBot:
- ROI 1-2 years for Airlines
- Major savings in Fuel Consumption
- Significant reduction of greenhouse gases and noise levels at airports
- FOD prevention
- Increase airport efficiency and throughput
3.7) Features of TaxiBot:
- No modification in airplane systems
- No need for APU replacement
- No extra load on the aircraft and no minimizing of room for cargo
- User friendly speed and steering control
- No change in NLG life.
- No utilization of aircraft resources for moving the airplane as this equipment uses its own power.
- Pilots fully in control during taxiing using the nose wheel tiller and pedal brakes as usual.
- Only short e-learning (CBT) required for the pilot
- Increased traction and improved safety on slippery and/or icy surfaces.
- Major safety improvement in pushback and maintenance towing
3.8) History of TaxiBot:
The deal with KSU of India on the operations of TaxiBot vehicles at New Delhi and Mumbai airports was concluded with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) on 12 July 2018. The contract was carried out in two phases. TaxiBot vehicles were delivered to airports in the first phase and ran in a controlled trial until the end of 2018. The second step entailed the supply of 38 additional vehicles to the airports of New Delhi and Mumbai, as well as the general Indian industry, over the course of four years. In the context of the rapid growth of India's aviation sector the contract was signed.
On July 25, 2014, the TaxiBot completed certification tests, was approved for airport towing in November 2014, and on November 25, 2014, the TaxiBot dispatch-towed the first commercial flight, Lufthansa LH140 from Frankfurt to Nuremberg. In February 2015, Lufthansa began regular flight operations with the TaxiBot at Frankfurt Airport. The wide-body model's certification tests were set to begin in the autumn of 2015, with certification due in early 2016.
Air India became the first airline in the world to commercially use the TaxiBot in October 2019, when it dispatched a Delhi-Mumbai flight from Terminal 3 of Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, which is among the world's Top 10 airports by annual passenger traffic.
Airlines will benefit from the taxibot system because it will save around 213 litres of fuel per flight. This equates to a potential annual savings of $35 million (roughly Rs 245 crore) for domestic airlines at Delhi Airport alone.
4. Present situation-
The major concern is that flight operations are not fully back to normal. Once the flight operations are back to normal then even taxibot operations will be back to normal. DILEMMA right now is How long will it take for the things to get back to normal? How will the whole system open? How will airlines bounce back? Clarity of situation is missing. Clarity of decision making is missing. It is doubtful that whether the business should expand in the same way as it would without any pandemic situation or should it slow down in unison with the aviation industry. So, it is evident that realignment of expansion plan is needed.
5. Taxibot as a life saver for the environment-
Taxibot is a semi-robotic equipment used to taxi the aircraft from its bay to the take-off zone without using engine power. This process would help save the environment as CO2 emissions corresponding to taxiing of aircraft for every mission would be saved. Taking the example of 40 taxibots and how it acts as a life saver for the environment. Each taxibot has a potential of reducing about 13,000 Kgs of CO2 per day and 40 taxibots would reduce about 5,20,000 Kgs of CO2 per day. It will act as a life saver for the environment as, 40 taxibots will reduce CO2 emissions by 5,20,000 Kgs/day equivalent to putting approx 41,270 cars off from Delhi roads.
The company that operates Delhi airport, Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL), reported that the use of taxibots, which has completed 1,000 movements as on May 7th, 2021, has saved about 214,000 litres of jet fuel for airlines and reduced carbon emissions at the airport by around 532 tonnes.
To save money, new ideas should rigorously keep coming up as new ideas will bring in change and change is always difficult, both in implementation and people. People will resist change but it is a good time to bring in change because load is not as much as it is during usual operations, if covid had not struck. And in these times, airlines can save money provided that people have to put in extra efforts. This would be more important to people and their resistance to change. All the new technologies and ideas are there, this is the best time to bring them into play and get it implemented with airlines because change which is generally resisted in good times, may not be resisted that much when times are bad for the industry. Therefore, bringing that change would be easier. This time would be easier for new technologies to get mainstream because airlines would be more eager to experiment when there is possibility for them to save money.
Taxibot will hopefully turn into a big reality in the aviation industry as it is already operational in Delhi and trails had been conducted in Bangalore. Airlines are realigning themselves as far as expansion of business (number of operations) is concerned. It can happen that taxibot is viewed as a cost saving investment for airlines. Today, India is the only one in the world adapting to the futuristic green taxiing solutions.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.