Graham Warwick November 24, 2020
Aviation Week: Startup Touts Towing System To Reduce Taxi Costs
The prototype of a towing system that would be built into the taxiways and ramps of airports to move aircraft between gate and runway under electric power, reducing emissions, is taking shape at Ardmore Industrial Airpark in Oklahoma.
Below-ground channel links gate to runway
Electric pull car enables engine-off taxiing
The prototype is being developed by startup Aircraft Towing Systems World Wide (ATS). The system comprises a below-ground channel that houses an electric-powered pull car that connects to an above-ground turntable called the tow dolly.
The aircraft’s nose gear is taxied onto the tow dolly, the wheels chocked and engines shut down. The automated pull car below the pavement then tows the aircraft between the gate and the runway along a track. The pilot maintains control of the aircraft and can disconnect from the dolly using brakes.
Although the system would cost millions of dollars to install at airports, the potential benefits of the ATS concept include fuel savings, emissions reductions, improved air quality, reduced noise as well as increased engine life and higher airport throughput if the system is automated.
Edmond, Oklahoma-based ATS was established in 2016 to commercialize the concept invented by Polish entrepreneur Stan Malicki. Oklahoma State University’s New Product Development Center was then contracted to develop the system.
The pull car houses a 400-hp electric car engine that drives two hydraulic pumps powering four hydraulic motors that grip a monorail along which the pull car moves through its channel. The DC electric motor is powered via conductor rails.
The tow track is a concrete channel under the taxiway and is covered with steel plates that can be lifted for maintenance access. The 1.75-in. gap between the plates is protected by brushes to keep out dirt. The channel has drainage and can be heated.
The prototype pull car, built by Production Machine & Tool, has been delivered; the tow dolly will be completed by December; and steel for the 358-ft.-long channel has been delivered to the Ardmore test site, says ATS CEO Vince Howie.
ATS expects to begin testing at Ardmore by March 2021, towing an engineless Boeing 727 acquired at auction. The ex-freighter can be ballasted with water to simulate aircraft of different weights. A public demonstration is planned for May.