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What is a TaxiBot?

AskWaves finds out how the technology will help Schiphol Airport reduce CO2 emissions

Dutch carrier KLM is actively helping to implement semi-autonomous aircraft tow vehicles at Schiphol Airport. (Photo: Royal Schiphol Group)

Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam plans to purchase two TaxiBots to move aircraft from the gate to the runway instead of using their own jet power, according to operator Royal Schiphol Group. It’s part of the airport’s effort to reduce pollution and make operations more sustainable.

Airports in Delhi and Bangalore, India, have conducted trials with a special aircraft tow vehicle. And Lufthansa tested a TaxiBot seven years ago. But Schiphol is the first airport in the world that wants to introduce sustainable taxiing on a large scale. 

The TaxiBot is a semi-robotic hybrid towing vehicle made by Smart Airport Systems under license from Israel Aircraft Industries for taxiing airplanes with their power off. The system is based on a vehicle that connects to the aircraft and is controlled by the pilot. The special towing vehicles can reduce fuel consumption and noxious emissions, including CO2, as much as 85% and reduce noise pollution by 60%, according to the company. And it improves efficiency by reducing wasted time at the gate during engine start-up, speeding up aircraft turn times.

A previous trial at Schiphol showed that sustainable taxiing leads to 50% less fuel consumption during taxiing, in the process lowering CO2, nitrogen oxides and ultrafine particle emissions. Given the distance involved, these fuel savings can reach up to 65% percent when aircraft taxi to Schiphol’s runway, the airport operator said.

Autonomous towing vehicles are one way airports and airlines are trying to reduce the environmental impact of ground operations. Others include autonomous baggage carts and busses.

Schiphol Airport, along with Air Traffic Control the Netherlands; carriers KLM, Transavia and Corendon Dutch Airlines and ground handling companies dnata and KLM Ground Services, have drawn up a step-by-step plan to make sustainable taxiing standard procedure at Schiphol by 2030. The plan fits with a broader European initiative aimed at developing and demonstrating more sustainable flight operations from gate to gate, applying multiple strategies and solutions to save fuel for each stage of a flight.

The first step of the plan is deploying the two TaxiBots in a follow-up pilot program by mid-year. If the pilot phase is successful it will become the standard way of operating and the number of aircraft that will taxi to and from the runway with a tow will gradually increase. Officials anticipate 18% of all flights will taxi sustainably after four years, with the practice spreading to more runways by 2025.

Royal Schiphol Group, the airport’s operator, recently said it is making infrastructure modifications to support sustainable taxiing to, and from, the runway. The project includes markings on the asphalt to ensure aircraft stop in the correct place and can be disconnected from the tow vehicle. Roads also need to be widened to enable the special vehicles to drive back and forth after an aircraft has been released without disrupting other aircraft traffic.

Meanwhile, Smart Airport Systems is developing a zero-emission vehicle, with electric or hydrogen fuel.

Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.


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Eric Kulisch

Eric is the Supply Chain and Air Cargo Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals and a Silver Medal from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government and trade coverage, and news analysis. He was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He won Environmental Journalist of the Year from the Seahorse Freight Association in 2014 and was the group's 2013 Supply Chain Journalist of the Year. In December 2022, Eric was voted runner up for Air Cargo Journalist by the Seahorse Freight Association. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. He has appeared on Marketplace, ABC News and National Public Radio to talk about logistics issues in the news. Eric is based in Vancouver, Washington. He can be reached for comments and tips at [email protected]