Airlines consume billions of gallons of jet fuel every year to transport passengers around the world. About five percent of that fuel is used on the ground, as airliners have to run their jet engines to taxi along the runway, generating a lot of carbon emissions in the process. A novel in-ground electric towel system, however, may soon enable airplanes to move across the tarmac in a much more efficient and sustainable way.
The technology, called Aircraft Towing System (ATS), is currently being developed by Oklahoma-based firm ATS World Wide. The system incorporates long trench-like channels installed down the middle of existing or new taxiways and aprons, covered with two steel plates, one on each side. A 1.5-inch (38-mm) gap separates the plates, creating a slot that runs the entire length of each channel.
In turn, each channel contains a motorized monorail device called a pullcar, which is powered by electrical rails running along the sides of the channel. Through the slot between the plates, the top of the pullcar is attached to another device called the tow dolly, which is exposed on the surface of the runway.
As explained by New Atlas, most of the time, each pullcar/dolly sits out of the way. These only appear when an airliner lands or is ready to depart, in which case the unit moves up to the aircraft’s front wheels. The pilot then runs the plane’s engines just long enough to move the wheels onto the dolly, which are secured with chocks.
Next, the pullcar kicks in to push or pull the aircraft along the tarmac as needed. Once the plane has been towed to where it needs to be, the engines are powered on once again to move the wheels back off the dolly.
In addition to saving significant amounts of fuel, the automated system is expected to increase aircraft throughput in airports by up to 30 percent, as well as minimize the chances of planes colliding with one another on the ground or simply getting in one another’s way.
ATS is currently finishing up a 358-ft (109-m) prototype pushback channel at Oklahoma’s Ardmore Municipal Airport, which should be operational in less than four weeks.
Image source: ATS World Wide