Electric towing system could save airlines $$$$$

https://www.fastcompany.com/90716645/a-boeing-747-burns-one-…
A Boeing 747 burns one ton of fuel while taxiing. This electric towing system could help
It would cost a whopping $150 million to overhaul Chicago O’Hare, but it could save airlines almost $500 million in fuel costs.

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It would cost a whopping $150 million to overhaul Chicago O’Hare, but it could save airlines almost $500 million in fuel costs.

Savings realized in 1-2 quarters would be great. But this is much longer (1 yr). Given that long term payback, the airlines can’t figure out how to really save money with such a system.

Savings realized in 1-2 quarters would be great. But this is much longer (1 yr). Given that long term payback, the airlines can’t figure out how to really save money with such a system.

I’m not following. If the savings is $500 million/year, then the payback would be less two quarters. But even if the breakeven point was five years, that’s still a really good rate of return.

But this is really an investment for the airport, who could presumably charge more in landing fees if the planes didn’t have to taxi so much.

But this is really an investment for the airport, who could presumably charge more in landing fees if the planes didn’t have to taxi so much.

Airport operators make a lot of money off fuel sales. Why would they want to decrease consumption?

intercst

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Airport operators make a lot of money off fuel sales. Why would they want to decrease consumption?

  • to charge higher margins on the use of the EV tow system, which could still be cheaper.
  • green PR points

Note: one ton of jet fuel is about 333 gallons, about $5/gal is $1667 to taxi.
If the EV towing system is ~3x as efficient as cars are there is plenty of room for the airline to save money and the airport to make more.

Mike

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If the savings is $500 million/year, then the payback would be less two quarters. But even if the breakeven point was five years, that’s still a really good rate of return.

Agreed. However, the above is good for you and me and many other businesses. Airline math appears to be something that no one else uses. Remember, businesses run on quarterly reports/profits.

Hate too be a party pooper (again), but this seems unlikely at best. While I applaud the attempt to save fuel (carbon, dollars, etc.) the idea of ripping up (for instance) O’Hare’s 200 gates for a mere $150m is a joke. The disruption to every single gate , even if staggered over time, is beyond comprehension. You can’t do “one gate at a time”, because if you have to dig the ditch you need to wipe out access to entire sides of terminals at a stroke.

While that is occasionally done for resurfacing the tarmac, that’s a process which is done quickly and the terminal is back in use. This seems as though it would take far longer period of time, especially for an untested technology which needs to be buried in the ground, yet still support the weight of (say) a 747. I question whether doing this nose-wheel jockeying out at the edge of the runway is a particularly good idea, too. I get attaching the nose wheel at the gate for pushback, but that still takes a human being, so running a tug is not much different.

And finally there’s the “who should pay for it” issue. I’m reminded of the transition from the bicycled filmstock era to digital projection at movie theaters. It was better for both, but neither wanted to pay for the infrastructure change. Distributors would save money on making duplicate prints and tracking them, theaters would have access to every film, instantly, as well as “one-off” events, and lower maintenance costs and less employee time splicing it all together. That standoff lasted years, with distributors finally giving in and agreeing to pay most of the costs (out of their future savings). In this case it’s the airlines who benefit, but the airport which gets the improved infrastructure. Good luck with that.

I’d like to see it - or something like it - but I won’t hold my breath.

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While I applaud the attempt to save fuel (carbon, dollars, etc.) the idea of ripping up (for instance) O’Hare’s 200 gates for a mere $150m is a joke.

I don’t understand why you need an underground system. Wouldn’t large battery-powered “tow trucks” work just as well (and be more flexible)? They use something similar to push the planes away from the gate.

DB2

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In my view, a better solution is WheelTug.

https://www.wheeltug.com/

Instead of digging up one runway at a time to install a track, put a maneuverable tug system on the front wheel of the plane. As the video in the link shows, pilots can shut down engines after landing and drive themselves to the gate, saving fuel. They can parallel park at the gate, allowing passengers to board and exit the front and the rear of the plane. This shortens the turnaround time so that the plane can get back into the air more quickly, and airlines only make money when their planes are in the air. No more waiting for someone to drive up in a tug vehicle–when the pilot’s ready to go, she can go.

Building a track in the runway is equivalent to stringing trolley wires down your street. It’s handy for trolley cars, but don’t most people find driving their own steerable vehicle to be much more convenient?

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I don’t understand why you need an underground system. Wouldn’t large battery-powered “tow trucks” work just as well (and be more flexible)? They use something similar to push the planes away from the gate.

The objection I read is that it will leave the “tow trucks” out near the runway, and they will have to return to the gates, creating traffic that other aircraft will have to avoid when taxiing. And you can’t just leave them sitting at the end of the runway for hookup there because that makes the runway unusually for following aircraft until they’re clear.

Somehow I would think there’s a solution to this without ripping up the entire gate and terminal structure.

In my view, a better solution is WheelTug.

The article, perhaps biased, perhaps not, notes that it would require the changeout of the nose wheel on every aircraft that uses it, and some aircraft couldn’t use it at all because of space constraints in the design of the air body. And it adds enough weight to make the fuel consumption worse during the rest of the flight.

I’m skeptical about the “board the front and back” because now the airport needs two gate operators instead of one, two “assistants” telling people which way to the connecting flight, and it takes a gate out of operation while a plane sits there hogging two of them. Some airports could afford to do that, but certainly not the busy ones.

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The objection I read is that it will leave the “tow trucks” out near the runway, and they will have to return to the gates, creating traffic that other aircraft will have to avoid when taxiing. And you can’t just leave them sitting at the end of the runway for hookup there because that makes the runway unusually for following aircraft until they’re clear.

Maybe they can someday use self-driving tow trucks that are connected to the control tower where movement of planes and trucks can be controlled.

PSU

The objection I read is that it will leave the “tow trucks” out near the runway, and they will have to return to the gates, creating traffic that other aircraft will have to avoid when taxiing. And you can’t just leave them sitting at the end of the runway for hookup there because that makes the runway unusually for following aircraft until they’re clear.

Over time, the number of landings at any given airport should closely match the number of takeoffs. Which means that for every plane towed out to the runway, there’s a plane towed from the runway to the terminal.

Of course, unless the wind direction changes, the planes usually need towed TO one end of the runway and FROM the other end - but that’s a track parallel to the currently-operating runway(s), so there’s minimal interference with the planes currently in the process of landing or taking off. (Of course, the energy to move the tow vehicle to the other end of the runway will somewhat decrease the energy savings.) And if a plane does have to be taken across a runway, it isn’t obvious that it being towed rather than self-propelled makes things more difficult.

And if the tow vehicles are manned, they can arrange to change drivers (for shift changes, lunch breaks, etc.) while at the terminal.

Also, during the period when such a system is being set up, paving an additional path next to the runways seems (at least at first glance) less disruptive than laying tracks in the runways.