Air Transat to test fuel-saving taxiing system

Canadian holiday airline Air Transat has agreed to offer Gibraltar-based WheelTug access to one of its Boeing 737 aircraft for development and testing purposes.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) earlier this month accepted the certification plans for the WheelTug aircraft electric drive system for Boeing 737NG aircraft.

The WheelTug system enables an aircraft to taxi forward and backward, using small electric motors in its nosewheels rather than jet engines or a tow tug.

The deal means that WheelTug will now have a platform for certification while Air Transat hopes to realise saving of well over $1 million per aircraft per year through reduced fuel consumption and emissions at airports, with reductions of up to 20 minutes in ground time between flights. Additionally, WheelTug may also enable aircraft to parallel park at terminal gates; using two doors for narrowbody boarding and deplaning.

Keith Lawless, Air Transat senior director of business sustainability and improvement, said: “The WheelTug system will provide us with phenomenal operational and environmental advantages. This agreement gives us a unique opportunity to get it on one of our aircraft on a preferential basis.”

Isaiah Cox, chief executive of WheelTug, said the business wants to lease the systems to airlines plus a portion of cost savings. He estimates the system could save more than US$1 million annually per aircraft, which it wants to split with the airline. He said he expects the system will enter into service by the end of next year.

Certification testing and demonstrations using the Air Transat aircraft are expected to be conducted at Montreal’s Trudeau International Airport.

Honeywell and Safran last year ended their partnership to develop its Electric Green Taxiing System for Airbus A320s. L-3 Communications also ceased similar partnerships with Lufthansa Technik and Crane Aerospace.

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