Have TaxiBot, Will Travel

The vehicles being developed by Airbus and Israel Aerospace Industries will be operated by commercial aircraft pilots from their cockpits, eliminating the need to use the planes' main engines during ground taxi.

Ground taxi operations at airports are in the news for a couple of reasons. Airbus announced Feb. 17 that airlines, airports, and aircraft leasing companies are bullish about TaxiBot, a vehicle it is developing with Israel Aerospace Industries to move large planes from push-back to the runway without using their main engines. The pilots would operate TaxiBot from their cockpits; the first prototype was showcased in October 2011 during an airport expo in Germany, where it won an innovation award, Airbus reports.

Two types of vehicles are being developed: one for handling single-aisle aircraft with 100 seats and above, and the second for larger, wide-body jetliners. Airbus says testing of the single-aisle prototype will take place this spring in France, and a joint venture of Airbus and IAI is expected to be created this year to finish TaxiBot's development and launch it commercially. It is powered by a diesel engine and has electrically driven wheels, according to Airbus.

The second development, on Feb. 16, was the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey's announcement of high-speed taxiways that will be added to Newark Liberty International Airport's main runways beginning in March. They will reduce on-the-ground flight delays, it says.

The taxiways are angled more gently to allow faster exits from a runway; they are already being used at the authority's John F. Kennedy International in New York. Traditional taxiways are more sharply angled, requiring pilots to slow down far more and thus take more time to depart a runway. The high-speed taxiways will be added to Newark Liberty's Runway 4R-22L as part of a renovation project costing $42 million.

"These improvements at Newark Liberty will help increase the region’s productivity by reducing the time airline passengers remain on the ground, while at the same time creating critically needed construction jobs," said Port Authority Chairman David Samson. "These projects fit in with the agency's core mission of improving our transportation infrastructure while helping to generate economic activity during these challenging times."

The authority's board also approved a $27.1 million Engineered Material Arresting System that will be installed at Newark Liberty. It will stop planes from overshooting the east end of Runway 11/29 and bring it into compliance with the Federal Aviation Administration's safety requirements. The system is made of collapsible concrete and improves safety by helping to prevent passenger and crew injuries as well as damage to the aircraft; an $8.1 million contract with a joint venture of Jacobs Engineering Group, Inc. and Engineered Arresting System Corp. will cover its installation.

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