Before COVID-19 changed the world, one of the biggest topics in the airline industry was the environment, and ways the industry can reduce emissions, including carbon offset schemes.
While it’s no longer the focal point for the industry, Amsterdam Schiphol Airport is moving forward with testing new technology that has the potential to reduce emissions.
Areas where aviation can become more efficient
There are the obvious ways that airlines can become more efficient, like flying more fuel efficient planes, cramming more seats onto planes (in terms of emissions per passenger, assuming they can keep flights full), offsetting flights, and more.
However, there are some other opportunities for emissions to be reduced that don’t involve carbon offsets or more efficient planes:
- There’s talk of making air traffic control more efficient, meaning planes have to make fewer turns, do less holding, etc.
- There’s talk about the wasteful emissions while planes are on the ground; we’ve all been in situations where we’re waiting nearly an hour for takeoff with the engines running, so could we see a system whereby planes only taxi to the runway when they’re ready to go?
The issue with all of these suggestions is that there’s some tradeoff between emissions and efficiency. With airports and airspace already so congested (pre-coronavirus), it’s tough to implement some of these measures without reducing planes in the sky.
Amsterdam tests new “taxibot”
Here’s a fascinating innovation that I wouldn’t be surprised to eventually see on a widespread basis. This spring Amsterdam Schiphol Airport is testing a new “taxibot,” as it’s called.
Generally you have tugs that push planes back from gates. Once the plane is pushed back the tug disconnects, and then the plane taxies to the runway using its engines.
With this new taxibot concept:
- A tractor would transport planes to and from the runway, so that they can keep their engines off for as long as possible, instead using the power of the tractor
- This would reduce overall fuel burn on the ground by 50-85%, resulting in reduced emissions
- The taxibot can turn on its axis with four wheel steering and drive sideways, so it can maneuver easily
- The taxibot can maintain normal taxiing speeds of up to 50km/hr
For now this is in the testing phase in order to determine safety and operational feasibility, though they’re hoping to eventually roll this out on a widespread basis.
Here’s a video of the new taxibot:
There are so many opportunities for planes to reduce emissions on the ground, so it’s great to see a concept like this being seriously tested. The big question is whether this is operationally feasible, and can be done without making the flow of traffic significantly less efficient.
I’ll be curious to see what they determine based on the testing phase…