Israeli carrier Israir has signed a letter of intent to become the launch customer for the Airbus A320 version of the WheelTug nose-gear electric taxi system.
The deal for 10 of the devices is "subject to financial and operational feasibility checks and regulatory approvals", says WheelTug in a statement.
Although Israir has only two A320s in its fleet, with another on backlog, WheelTug chief executive Isaiah Cox says the size of the order is to allow future fleet flexibility. This is particularly key given that entry into service for the A320 product will not be until early 2014, he adds.
Cox says the firm will shortly announce a large order with a "flag carrier" for "many more" of the A320 systems.
"There's no way the [Airbus] system could enter into service before the end of 2013, but having hundreds in the backlog will certainly help," he says.
Fellow Israeli airline El Al and Indian carrier Jet Airways have previously signed letters of intent for 20 and 85 of the devices, respectively, for their Boeing 737NG fleets.
Certification and entry into service for the Boeing system are due in the third quarter of 2013, he says.
Although there has been no agreement between WheelTug and either airframer to offer the system as a line-fit option, talks are continuing, says Cox. He adds: "It's our intention to work with the OEMs to add this to their product line, because it clearly adds value to the aircraft."
In addition, it is in discussions with regional jet operators about the potential for a similar system on Embraer or Bombardier aircraft.
WheelTug uses electric motors installed in an aircraft's nose-gear wheels to provide drive for pushback and taxiing without the need to run its engines.
The manufacturer claims this could save an operator up to $800,000 per aircraft each year through reduced fuel consumption and lower maintenance costs on the back of fewer incidents of foreign object damage to engines. Airlines pay for the system through a 50% split with WheelTug of the savings made by each aircraft.
There may be wider benefits, too. A recent study carried out by WheelTug and Prague Airport Consulting suggests a number of advantages of WheelTug-equipped fleets for airport operators. These include increased throughput at gates and on taxiways, by as much as 2.7%, and improved safety for ground personnel.
As a result, says Cox, Prague airport will look to introduce a financial incentive for operators of electric taxi-equipped aircraft.