US technology group L-3 Communications (chalet A9-14,OE1) has partnered UK-based Crane Aerospace & Electronics (H4/F14) to jointly develop an electric taxi system, which is to be tested next year.
L-3 trialled a demonstrator system of the planned main wheel drive units together with Lufthansa on one of the airline's Airbus A320s in Frankfurt last December. The non-flyable equipment was based on off-the-shelf components - which are employed in, for example, the automotive sector - to practically explore the concept of electrically-powered aircraft ground movements and the gathering of specification data.
Now the New York-based company has recruited Crane to develop and manufacture part of a production system, which is scheduled to be certified in late 2015. While L-3 will focus on the electric motors and clutch mechanism, Crane will be responsible for the wheel drive and brake controls, power conversion electronics as well as the integration of the equipment in the aircraft's systems monitoring architecture.
The first production standard components should become ready for testing by March 2013, with aircraft standard hardware to follow around the middle of year, says Martin McCarthy, Crane's vice-president of business development. L-3 told Flightglobal earlier this year that a prototype system would be ready in late 2013 or early 2014.
Mike Wallace, president of L-3 space and propulsion systems, says the company is "in final throws to define the forward-fit system", but has yet to decide on what aircraft type - most likely the Airbus A320 or 737 - it will initially be offered to form a market "beachhead". He adds that L-3 will make the next "major step" toward the "tail end" of 2012.
A retrofit system is to be offered later on, which should not require major changes from the forward-fit equipment. Lufthansa Technik (LHT) said earlier this year that it wanted to remain involved in the development of the electric taxi system, provided that economic benefits analyses following the demonstrator tests were positive. A decision was then planned for the third quarter of this year.
Wallace says that L-3 is still in discussions and is "just finishing some of the business case closings" with LHT. McCarthy adds, however, that L-3 and Crane will be the core partners in the programme. While the later serial production and installation could involve other subcontractors, the two companies will not need additional partners for the system's development, he says.
Crane was not involved in the demonstrator test in December, but McCarthy says that the company had been discussing a partnership with L-3 for nearly a year. He adds that L-3's specialist capabilities, such as electric motor design, fits well into Crane's long-term strategy and their joint development work could be employed beyond the electric taxi system.