The Boeing 737 narrow-body jet
has been certified in Europe and Israel for airport towing by
the TaxiBot system developed by Israel Aerospace Industries
(IAI) and its partners, the state-owned Israeli company said on
Monday.

The annual global cost of towing passenger aircraft is
estimated to reach $8.4 billion by 2020, but TaxiBot has the
potential to reduce the cost to less than $3 billion a year, IAI
said. The company said that the system also reduces CO2
emissions by 85 percent and noise by 50 percent.

TaxiBot is a semi-robotic, pilot-controlled vehicle designed
to transport planes from airport gate to the runway and back
without using the aircraft's engines. It was developed by IAI
and its French risk-sharing partner TLD Group, a maker of
airport ground support equipment, in cooperation with Lufthansa
Engineering and Operational Services.

Boeing and Airbus provided support for the
project, which is expected to begin in-service evaluation next
month for Lufthansa 737 flights at Frankfurt Airport.

A Boeing 747 or Airbus A320 consumes about a ton of fuel
(1,250 litres) for a 17-minute taxi before takeoff, which
TaxiBot would reduce by 85 percent. The TaxiBot itself consumes
25-30 litres of fuel.

'ECO-FRIENDLY REVOLUTION'

"This innovative system will create an eco-friendly
revolution in the commercial aviation industry and will save
millions of dollars in fuel for airlines, ground-handling
companies and airports worldwide," IAI Chief Executive Joseph
Weiss said.

IAI expects the TaxiBot to receive approval for operational
tests with Airbus A320 narrow-body aircraft soon. The 737 and
A320 families comprise more than 70 percent of the world's
active commercial aircraft fleet, it said.

European and U.S. airlines are in advanced talks to use the
TaxiBot, IAI Said.

Last month IAI and TLD signed an agreement with Air France
to evaluate use of TaxiBot on the airline's wide-body
fleet at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport.

Authorisation for use on wide-body aircraft is expected by
the end of 2015, IAI said.

IAI officials estimate that TaxiBot will earn the Israeli
company hundreds of millions of dollars over the coming years.

"We invested tens of millions of dollars in this project, as
did TLD," Shuki Eldar, vice president of business development,
told reporters. "Lufthansa, which helped us and was involved,
also invested."

IAI, which supplies the robot for the TaxiBot, is setting up
a company in Europe to market the product. TLD supplies the
tractors for the system.

(Editing by David Goodman)


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