Pretty soon, when traveling the world, your first taxi ride might be well before you arrive at your destination.  Israel Aerospace Industries’ new passenger jet towing vehicle “TaxiBot” is set to improve safety while dramatically reducing costs by billions of dollars and carbon emissions by millions of tons.

Ride with taxibot

As IAI describes it, airplanes will be able to hitch a ride on TaxiBot:

The Innovation team at the Lahav Division of Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. (IAI) has developed a unique concept for its TaxiBot system, a semi-robotic towbarless tractor that tows an aircraft from the airport gate to the take-off point (taxi-out phase) and returns it to the gate after landing (taxi-in phase). The TaxiBot eliminates the use of airplane engines during taxi-in and until immediately prior to take-off during taxi-out.

TaxiBot requires no modification to the plane, and the control of the plane remains in the hands of the pilot.  Israel21c reports:

During trials, IAI showed how the aircraft’s pilot can steer the plane to the runway using tiller and braking pedals like those used in regular airplane taxiing….

After the test, Lufthansa pilot Bernd Pfeffer stated in his evaluation: “The overall impression is very good, and better than I expected. Steering the aircraft using the Taxibot with all kinds of turns was absolutely to my liking in addition to the accelerating and braking capabilities that were good.”

Big savings, less pollution, and increased safety

Eliminating the taxi function of planes could potentially lead to a number of benefits, including reduced fuel expenditures, air pollution, noise pollution, and wear and tear on the planes.

At many airports, the passenger gates are several miles from the runways, and the drive to the runway consumes huge quantities of jet fuel.  For example, a Boeing 747 consumes a ton of jet fuel every 17 minutes.

“The good news about the taxibot is that a plane’s crew does not have to use the engines to taxi from the passenger gate to the end of the runway,” IAI taxibot project manager Ron Brayer told “Globes”. “This is no small thing nowadays. Airlines will save billions of dollars on fuel. Plane safety will improve, because when the engines are off, the risk of sucking in items on the ground is reduced. In addition, noise at airports will lessen, and there will be fewer pollution emissions. In effect, the plane’s crew will only have to operate the immense jet engines for less than five minutes before takeoff.”

IAI ambitiously predicts the enormous, aggregate impact of TaxiBot if it were universally adopted:

By 2011 there will be about 81,000 mainliner flights each year. Worldwide use of the TaxiBot will reduce the cost of global fuel consumption for taxiing from $7,000,000,000 to only $750,000,000 per year.

Burning a single gallon of fuel creates an emission of 9.57 kg of CO2.  This means that in 2011 these emissions will reach 18,000,000 tons per year. Use of the TaxiBot has the potential to reduce these emissions to only 2,000,000 tons.

And, TaxiBot provides increased safety during inclement weather.  Lufthansa pilot Bernd Pfeffer commented:

“A big advantage of using the Taxibot is on icy or slippery surfaces where traction is now better, and safety is increased when turning. I wouldn’t change anything at all.”

Taxibot in action

To see this interesting example of Israeli innovation in action and hear part of the Lufthansa test pilot’s review of it, check out this video.