Hyderabad: Globally, airport traffic continues to grow with crowded bottlenecks, more ground vehicles and busy schedules leading to more incidents in ramp areas. US-based WheelTug promises to bring its technology to airports at no cost, reduce traffic and ground clutter making them safer and quieter. The electric taxi pioneer has already signed letters of intent with over 25 airlines (including IndiGo and SpiceJet in India) representing more than 2,000 aircraft-already 15 per cent of all Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s in service (13,000).
Airline interest in securing the WheelTug systems is growing. In 2020 alone, WheelTug almost doubled the number of positions reserved by airlines. The company is in talks with airlines worldwide, including major Asian, European and US carriers.
Isaiah Cox, CEO, WheelTug told Telangana Today, in an exclusive interview, “We are currently engaged in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval process. We are looking at June-July 2022 to roll out the system, starting with airlines that have ordered our system first. IndiGo and SpiceJet have signed up with us already, and because they account for 60 per cent of the local market, India is among the top three WheelTug markets.”
“As per the 737NG (next generation) program, we expect deliveries from mid-2022 onwards. SpiceJet may get its deliveries in 2022. WheelTug is on track to complete the 737 system and is looking to raise funds for the A320 launch. The A320 program is yet to be launched so IndiGo may get its deliveries accordingly. Airlines on five continents have also signed up with us. We offer the system as a retrofit, making an old aircraft more efficient, thus making an airline more competitive. One of the other key drivers is going to be tackling congestion at the busiest airports of the world,” he added.
The system enables pilot-controlled forward and reverse movement in the gate and terminal areas without tractors or jet engines. WheelTug’s system employs high-torque motors powered by the aircraft APU (auxiliary power unit) installed in the nose wheels of the aircraft, which give pilots control of the aircraft when performing ground operations.
Pushback tugs will not be required to back up from gates, and aircraft will not generate jet blasts in the terminal areas, which as a result allows faster taxi-back clearances. It also cuts safety clearance delay and increases aircraft movement.
He said, the onboard camera system provides situational awareness through the pilot’s electronic flight bag, giving a lot of useful insights. WheelTug may help the aviation sector move towards automation on the ground. Aircraft driving back automatically could be possible in future with the help of enhanced data insights.
“By choosing WheelTug electric taxi systems, airlines can make ground operations more efficient, faster and safer, besides reducing carbon emissions. The system ensures dependable departures and better aircraft utilisation leading to optimised network scheduling. With WheelTug, airports can significantly reduce congestion. The taxiway will be used for moving airplanes, and the ramp area will be used only for turning airplanes,” Isaiah Cox added.
Delays on the ground have a direct correlation to the trailing financial performance of the airline companies. The technology will help reduce up to 30 per cent of ground time. Every minute saved on pushback may save an airline $150 (over Rs 11,000). Depending on an airline’s current fleet and schedule, WheelTug productivity gains may increase.
When asked about the manufacturing arrangement, he said, “We are a FAA STC (supplemental type certificate) applicant as a legal manufacturer. We source components from the US and software from Europe. For the A320 programme, the supplier base will be in Europe as the certification will start from the continent. In terms of supply chain, we have everything in place. We will establish MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) relationships for installation and support in each market we will enter, including India.”
Looking beyond civil aviation, Isaiah Cox added, WheelTug also sees opportunities to cater to military aircraft. The company may sell military rights and also explore opportunities in the areas of rotorcraft and drones. “While WheelTug is focused on the civilian market, we welcome conversations with potential partners for the military market,” he added.
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