Start-up nears airport Aircraft Towing System tests

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By Scott Hamilton

May 16, 2022, © Leeham News: A start-up company is 60-90 days away from landing a contract with a US airport to install a prototype system that will pull airplanes around the field, eliminating taxiing with engines or tugs.

The ATS airport channel system. Source: ATS.

ATS Worldwide (for Aircraft Towing System) proposes a network of trench-like guides equipped with a flexible tow mechanism that captures the nose gear to tow airplanes from the regional jet to the Airbus A380. It’s all done with automation. No new equipment, other than a nose camera, is added to the airplane. This eliminates added weight and complexity, or the need for a Supplemental Type Certificate, proposed by Wheel Tug. No external tug, like Taxibot, takes the airplane to the end of the runway. This eliminates airfield conflicts, ATS said during the Aviation Week MRO Americas conference last month in Dallas.

But constructing a network of towing trenches from the gate, across the ramp, to the taxiways and the runways, presents its own challenges. Constructing the network won’t be inexpensive. Funding sources must be identified. The Federal Aviation Administration and other regulators must be convinced that the system will be safe. Regulatory standards must be prepared.

And the elephant in the room will be the reaction from unions whose ground handlers, wing walkers, etc., face losing jobs or fewer jobs.

The big advantages: eliminating the need for hundreds of tugs at an airport. Reduction in fuel required to taxi airplanes, major cost savings for the airlines. A reduction in emissions, a growing goal, especially in Europe and the USA. Finally, there can be lower headcounts by the airlines and airports, another cost savings.

Implementation, if all goes well, is years away. But a prototype system for proof-of-concept is expected to be activated at the Ardmore (OK) airport in 60-90 days. At least three major hub airports are reviewing proposals for initial demonstration projects as well, ATS says.

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