Israel’s El Al Airlines is planning to outfit 20 of their Boeing 737 airplanes with electric drive units from WheelTug that will provide power for the planes to taxi while on the ground. Though these hybrid devices will not assist when the plane is in flight, they will cut the need for the nearly 2 gallons of gas used per minute by airplanes taxiing while using their jet engines. The WheelTug units run off of the plane’s auxiliary power unit and will also remove the need for other vehicles to tow airplanes to and from gates at airports. WheelTug says the system cuts 85% of fuel use while planes are grounded.
Obviously, the bulk of a plane’s fuel usage comes while it is in flight, but the WheelTug system could cut the nearly 2 gallons of gas used per minute on each taxiing airplane. Though the auxiliary power unit runs on fuel, it takes much less to power the WheelTug units than it does to power the jet engines, bringing fuel consumption to just 15% of current usage. This invention surfaces as people around the world are attempting to combat high flight costs by cutting fuel usage and costs in the airline industry.
The WheelTug unit weighs about 300 pounds and is installed in the nose of the aircraft. By giving the planes autonomy while on the ground for taxiing it would also reduce the waits incurred from flights needing to be pulled into or out of gates at the airport. This fuel and time saving device is set to be approved for use in 2013 at which time El Al will begin installing it in their aircraft.