Good news for TaxiBot fans: the European Commission has approved the formation of of a joint venture between Airbus and Israel Aerospace Industries to produce the semi-robotic aircraft towing vehicle; and US equipment leasing company Bankers Capital has signed a letter of intent (LoI) to buy systems for use in North America.
EC competition authorities concluded that Airbus's involvement in the TaxiBot venture "would not give rise to the shutting out of rivals in the supply of new alternative taxiing solutions or the supply of aircraft." The "alternative taxiing" market is heating up, with WheelTug stacking up commitments for its powered nosewheel system and Honeywell/Safran developing a powered-mainwheel system.
At Farnborough, IAI and Lufthansa's ground handling company LEOS signed an agreement to test three prototype TaxiBots in routine operations with Lufthansa's 737 fleet at Frankfurt, starting in May 2013 . The prototypes are being built by French airport equipment manufacturer TLD.
The LoI with Massachusetts-based Bankers Capital Transportation Leasing Group is valued at $97 million and covers the supply "dozens" of both narrowbody and widebody TaxiBot systems to providing towing services to airlines in North America. IAI says talks are underway with US airlines to establish an operational testing site for the narrowbody TaxiBot by the end of 2013.
And fans of electric taxiing don't worry, WheelTug now has 215 delivery slots reserved for its powered nosewheel system. Alitalia has reserved 100 of those for its A320s, Israir has signed an LoI for 10 A320s, India's Jet Airways has an LoI to lease systems for its 737NGs, and El Al has an LoI to take early production systems for its 737NGs.