Frankfurt airport, June 2013. Two widebody passenger aircraft are pushed back from the terminal, engines off. They are still off when they cross the apron on their way to the taxiway. Other aircraft are moving in the area, passing very close to each other.
The scene is like one from a science fiction movie - but this may soon be reality, as the TaxiBot unmanned pushback/towing tractor starts work at main airports .
Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Airbus are preparing a marketing plan for their TaxiBot pushback/towing tractor. This - in preparation for massive demonstrations for potential customers - is to begin next year.
Lufthansa and Airbus have defined the operational features of the TaxiBot, which is based on technology patented by IAI.
The system is designed to eliminate the need to operate the aircraft's engines after pushback. The design is based on letting TaxiBot tow the aircraft after pushback until the take-off starting point.
The special design of TaxiBot gives the pilot full control of the system during the taxiing process, using the same aircraft controls the pilot is accustomed to when taxiing using the aircraft's engines.
IAI said use of the TaxiBot system requires no modifications to the aircraft, and minimal changes to the airport infrastructure, which will not affect existing taxiways and runways.
A source related to the programme said marketing will initially focus on Europe and the USA.
He added that tests had proved using TaxiBot reduces the use of fuel during taxiing, lowers air pollution in the terminal area and reduces the hazard of foreign object damage to the aircraft's engines.
The source added that the second phase of the programme will focus on using a communications network that will allow a control centre to operate all the TaxiBots operating at an airport, even in poor ground visibility conditions, aiming to shorten the distances between the aircraft on the way to and from runways.