El Al to use electric nose-gear drive for 737 taxiing

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Israeli flag-carrier El Al is to become an initial customer for an electric nose-gear drive system, designed to enable aircraft to taxi without the use of engines.

El Al has signed a letter of intent under which it will "obtain a substantial part of the initial production" of the WheelTug drive systems, said WheelTug.

The Israeli carrier will install the equipment on modern-variant Boeing 737 aircraft, the type on which early development of the system has concentrated.

El Al already operates 737-700s and -800s and, earlier this year, firmed an order for four -900ERs.

WheelTug said the agreement is subject to "financial and operational feasibility checks" as well as regulatory approvals.

The nose-gear drive has been developed to reduce fuel-burn by enabling aircraft to push back and taxi - to and from the runway - under electric power rather than through the engine thrust. Not only does this save fuel but the aircraft is put at less risk of foreign object damage, WheelTug added.

It said a 737 can burn up to 11kg (25lb) of fuel a minute idling, while the drive system uses only the auxiliary power unit for taxiing. Given a typical 25min gate-to-runway time at larger hubs, the system could generate "substantial" savings in operating expenditure per aircraft.

"On typical short- to medium-haul routes these aircraft spend a significant percentage of their time on the ground," the company added. "These savings can really add up."

WheelTug plans to expand the system to other commercial types.