For a green apron

Alternative mobility concepts for taxiing and towing of aircraft

In the era of climate change and limited resources, electromobility is becoming ever more important for sustainable environmental, energy and transport policy. Lufthansa Technik has been a substantial contributor to environmental protection for many years already, with innovative developments in the field of "Green MRO". Because of the enormous ecological and economical savings potential, Lufthansa Technik has also been investigating alternative power concepts for aircraft movements on the ground since 2008. The aim of these projects, bundled together in Airport eMove and eLift, is the development and implementation of electromobility concepts which achieve the maximum possible environmental and resource protection for surface traffic itself and, even more importantly, for taxiing and aircraft towing. Lufthansa Technik, its subsidiary Lufthansa LEOS and several network partners, are together testing surface movement sub-projects: TaxiBot and eSchlepper. The Lufthansa subsidiary LSG Sky Chefs is working on a further project: eLift, the catering hoist vehicle of tomorrow. 

TaxiBot: pilot controls diesel-electric-powered aircraft tugs.

With the TaxiBot system, the pilot takes over the control of the aircraft tug from the driver after pushback, using the "Pilot Control Mode" (PCM), until the aircraft reaches the runway. Once the decoupling position has been reached and the engines are started, the pilot returns control of the tug to the driver. For this project, a new 800HP diesel-electric aircraft tug has been developed with a special load fitting for the aircraft nose wheels. The nose wheel fitting is equipped with sensors and a rotary disk. All steering movements of the nose wheel are transmitted to the TaxiBot's all-wheel steering. The pilot steers the aircraft using the tiller as if it was being driven using its own engines. The sophisticated sensor technology, speed control and a GPS controller simplify controlling the speed of movement dependent on the taxiway position, incline and curve radius. The TaxiBot can be tested on a Boeing 737 without modification.

After comprehensive tests and approval by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in autumn 2014, the TaxiBot is now in real-world use in flight operations at Frankfurt Airport. The TaxiBot is currently being deployed for towing of Boeing 737 aircraft. The TaxiBot range of products is to be expanded with a higher performance model from 2016, suitable for deployment with wide-body aircraft such as the Boeing 747 and Airbus A380. A suitable memorandum of understanding for the necessary certification tests on wide-bodied aircraft has been issued and signed by Lufthansa LEOS and the project partner, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). A Boeing 747-400 is being used for the test phase, which is due to run until the end of 2015. 

Hybrid eSchlepper without towing bar

The eSchlepper is a four-wheel-drive electric vehicle for towing heavy long-haul aircraft over distances of up to seven kilometers, as required for maintenance hangar towing operations. High performance lithium batteries and a plug-in hybrid-electric motor, combining diesel and electric motor in one, will make it possible to tow heavy aircraft such as the Airbus A380 over long distances. The lithium batteries are charged from the electricity network, with the option of recharging them during operation where necessary using an integrated diesel motor (Range Extender). 

eLift: developing an electrically-powered catering vehicle

Other electromobility concepts for airport surface movements are currently in the development and test phase. Lufthansa's LSG Sky Chefs subsidiary, for example, is working with cooperation partners in the eLift project to develop an electrically-powered catering hoist vehicle. Not only is the vehicle itself powered via an electric motor; integrated components such as the hoist itself are to be electrified. The running gear and the superstructure are separated in both mechanical and energy terms, so that the two systems can be independently supplied with power. 

With the help of these new electromobility concepts it is possible to significantly reduce fuel consumption, pollution and noise emissions at airports. Beyond this, though, the maintenance costs for aircraft engines, landing gear and brakes will be further reduced and the life of these components extended. With these innovation projects, Lufthansa Technik is clearly demonstrating that economic efficiency and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive; indeed, these two concerns can and must guide each other. Airport eMove and eLift constitute a fundamental component in the "Green Ground Handling" electromobility concept at Frankfurt Airport, recognized by the Federal German Government as a "beacon" project. Partners in this initiative, alongside the Lufthansa Group, include the State of Hesse, Fraport AG and the Rhine-Main Electromobility Model Region. This unique electromobility concept is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Development (BMVBS) and supported by Technische University Darmstadt. The project, launched in 2013, runs until May 2016.