Air Transport World

Lowering the bars. (towbarless aircraft tow vehicles)

Towbarless operations are increasing around the world, as safety and cost considerations overcome crews' cautions

LONDON -- A mall but significant revolution is happening on the aprons of many of the major airports. That very traditional piece of aviation equipment -- the tow-bar -- is disappearing in favor of a new generation of pushback vehicles that can do without them.

Development of towbarless tractors can be traced back to the industry's first big fuel crisis -- in the early 1970s -- when the idea was to save kerosene by pulling fully loaded airliners out to the end of the runway before they started their engines. Also, after landing, engines would be shut down at the runway turnoff and the aircraft towed to the terminal building.

But that scheme fell down with the realization that to keep a big airport moving, the towing would have to be carried out at fairly high speeds and that to pull a Boeing 747 weighing the best part of 400 tons at 30 mph, the tractor would have to be fitted with a 2,000-hp engine, with braking to match.

In fact, experiments were carried out at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport with a tractor the size of a railroad diesel locomotive. But during trials, with a 747 connected via towbar, severe problems were experienced in keeping the aircraft stable and under control. …

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