Modern jet aircraft use a lot of power — and not just when they are in flight. When an aircraft is sitting at the terminal or in taxi mode to and from the runway, those jet engines are constantly burning fuel. A bit of relief, however, may soon be on the way as EL AL Israel Airlines recently announced they have entered into an agreement with WheelTug Aircraft Drive Systems to begin installing a device to electrically move aircraft while they are on the ground.
The WheelTug electric drive system uses high-performance electric motors, installed in the nose gear wheels of an aircraft, to provide full mobility while on the ground, without the use of the aircraft’s jet engines or tugs for both push back and taxi operations.
WheelTug is designed to let aircraft be electrically driven from the terminal gate to the takeoff runway, and upon landing from runway exit to the gate. The resulting improvements in efficiency, flexibility, fuel savings, and reduced engine foreign object damage are said to yield projected savings in operating expenses per aircraft per year, plus substantial reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions.
The WheelTug system is being developed initially for the Boeing 737NG, one of the world’s most widely flown aircraft; systems for other models of commercial and military aircraft will follow. The company said fuel savings of between one to two gallons per minute can be expected with the electric drive system. That translates to about $100 savings for a typical 25-minute round trip taxi time.
There are other reductions as well from not using engines to push back from the gate and maintenance savings. In all, WheelTug estimates the total savings can be $405 per flight. It’s not much compared to an airliner’s overall fuel costs, but it can add up to more than $554,000 in savings per aircraft per year.