Robots start to move into commercial aviation

Unmanned air systems (UAS) are currently used for defence and civil applications, but many observers claim that it is only a question of time before the unmanned “fashion”  penetrates commercial aviation. That, I think, will take time – more because of psychological reasons than technological ones – but the industry is going into the robotic world fast.

Robots and unmanned systems are members of the same growing family, and we now have something real in this context. It’s a beginning of a revolution.

TaxiBot, a semi-robotic pilot-controlled vehicle designed to transport airplanes from airport gates to the runway and back, has recently completed certification tests in Frankfurt International Airport.

Tests were conducted on a Lufthansa B737 airplane with the support of Boeing and the official EASA and CAAI flight governing authorities. Following certification approval, in-service evaluation will be conducted on commercial flights departing from Frankfurt.

Meanwhile, the TaxiBot widebody prototype for widebody airplanes has completed assembly and started dynamic driving tests at TLD’s factory near Tours, France.

Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), the company that is developing the system, says leading airlines, ground-handling companies, airports and leasing companies around the world have shown considerable interest in TaxiBot. Several working groups are studying and preparing to introduce TaxiBot at some of the world’s leading airport hubs.

IAI says TaxiBot can be used with any type of airplane, does not increase its weight or reduce its cargo space, and requires no modification to the airplane’s systems. A significant reduction in fuel consumption is achieved by using TaxiBot, regardless of flight range. In addition to a substantial reduction in CO2 emissions achieved by using TaxiBot, the system reduces cases of FOD (foreign object damage) by 50%, reduces noise pollution by 50%, and does not use the airplane’s power resources for taxiing.

TaxiBot can reach 23 knots (43 km/h) with fully-loaded B737 and A320 airplanes, without the need to change or replace the airplane’s APU. TaxiBot allows the pilot full control of the system, and operation is performed using the airplane’s tiller and brake pedals as in regular taxiing. Pilot training is therefore minimal.

So the revolution has begun. It is currently on the ground – but look to the skies.

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