How Automatic Aircraft Towing Cuts Collisions And Fuel Usage

As COP 26 wraps up in the United Kingdom, aviation stakeholders have been left mulling over plans to meet sustainability targets in the decades ahead. With this in mind, they will be looking at modern technology to improve efficiency across their operations. One solution that could be a gamechanger in this next chapter is the aircraft towing system developed by ATS World Wide.

Aside from carbon credit revenue potential, there are significant cost benefits for those that will utilize the ATS product. Photo: Getty Images

How it works

ATS seeks to improve safety and fuel efficiency for carriers and airports while reducing the environmental impact of ground processes. By using the Oklahoma-based company’s product, the pilot shuts off the plane’s main engine after the nose wheel is secured. In a programmed pattern, the system’s electric-powered dolly will emerge and automatically pull the aircraft from the runway and to the gate.

The firm is taking advantage of the progress in electric motor technology, which can be utilized in small units. These builds are notably powerful enough to tow large jet aircraft, even widebodies.

The following video shows an illustration of the system in action.

Notable reductions

ATS notes that collisions can be significantly reduced with this system. Moreover, there are considerable savings to be had when it comes to jet fuel. Around 4 million liters / 1 million gallons of aircraft fuel is consumed per day when it comes to the taxi procedure.

Busy airports such as London Heathrow could massively reduce consumption by deploying the aircraft towing system. The UK’s largest airport’s average taxi time is 22 minutes, and the average fuel consumption during the taxi process is 35 liters / 9 gallons per minute.

In the year before the pandemic, the hub saw 475,000 taxi movements. Therefore, 15,995,000 liters of fuel were burned at Heathrow during taxiing in 2019, curbing environmental impact. Following installation, emissions will be reduced by 90%

Speed, right of way, and distance between aircraft are constantly recalculated with the system. Photo: ATS

Attractive savings

Along with environmental sustainability benefits, the system will help keep the bank balance healthy. ATS notes that if fuel cost €1.70 / $1.95 per liter, there would be savings of over €27.1 million / $31.0 million per year at this single airport. So, there are plenty of savings to be had across airline networks.

“We still move aircraft the same way we did 100 years ago, and that’s primarily using the thrust of the aircraft. Thrust to move an inanimate object is the most inefficient way to move an aircraft. You have to deal with the jet blast. It throttles up, it’s extremely noisy, and it puts some of the most emissions into the atmosphere. Ours is a track channel system. So, we know exactly where the aircraft is going to go,” Vince Howie, CEO of Aircraft Towing Systems World Wide LLC, told Simple Flying.

“The engines are shut down, so no more noise and emissions going into the atmosphere. And since we know exactly where the aircraft is going to go, there is no more clipping a building or aircraft wing. We have sensors onto the car, so we know exactly if an animal would run out in front of the car or a gas truck cuts in, it’ll shut the system down, and it knows exactly what’s going on in all the surroundings. Also, the pilot maintains control of his aircraft, so he can overpower using throttles or brakes in an emergency situation.”

The system can work during severe weather conditions, even when there is ice or snow. Photo: ATS

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily and weekly aviation news digests.

Modern solutions

There are undoubtedly several solutions to improve efficiency on the ground in the current climate. However, with this automatic system, there is no need for the pilot to drive the plane to and from the gate like they may have to do with alternatives such as WheelTug and EGTs. Also, tug systems such as Taxibot still need a tug and driver for each plane.

The ATS aircraft towing system is expected to be be inaugurated in Oklahoma City in April 2022. Overall, amid the ambitious cost-saving and sustainability targets high on the aviation industry’s agenda, we can expect plenty of advancement in this space in the coming years.

What are your thoughts about the aircraft towing system? Let us know what you think in the comment section.