EasyJet will be the first airline to test a fuel-saving electric taxi system being developed by Honeywell and Safran. Operational trials on the Airbus A320 are expected to begin in 2013, with the goal of making system available by 2016.

The U.K. airline’s announcement comes after Lufthansa Technik and L-3 Communications tested an electric taxi system technology demonstrator on an A320 at Frankfurt in December. WheelTug also plans to demonstrate a system on a Boeing 737-800 in May, “almost certainly in North America,” the startup company says.

The Honeywell/Safran electric green taxi system (EGTS) uses electric motors on the main landing-gear wheels, powered by the aircraft’s auxiliary power unit (APU). The L-3/Lufthansa system also powers the main wheels, while WheelTug’s approach is to drive the nosewheels.

By allowing the aircraft to taxi to and from the runway without using the main engines, the systems are expected to reduce fuel consumption, emissions and noise. WheelTug calculates its system also will reduce turn-around time and potentially increase airport capacity, says CEO Isaiah Cox.

Honeywell “conservatively estimates” that the EGTS will save an average $160 per segment for an A320 or Boeing 737 operator, and 130 tons of fuel per year per aircraft, says Brian Wenig, VP-business development.

The Honeywell/Safran partnership has acquired an A320, based at Montpelier, France, which it is using to understand loads and deflections on the landing gear, he says. This aircraft will be used for tests of the EGTS beginning this year.

WheelTug is testing its motors in the laboratory and expects to begin trials of the complete wheel package in March, says Cox. The aircraft provider and location for the May demonstration have yet to be announced.

WheelTug is on track for certification and first deliveries for the 737NG in 2013, and talks have begun with A320 operators, Cox says. Israel airline El Al has signed a memorandum of understanding, and Cox expects to have “1,000 aircraft in backlog” by late this year.

Wenig says the Honeywell/Safran EGTS is being developed only for narrowbody aircraft, as the power required to taxi a widebody is beyond electric drives. An alternative for larger aircraft is the Israel Aerospace Industries-developed TaxiBot—a towing vehicle that is remotely controlled by the pilot. TaxiBot has been tested with the Airbus A340 and Boeing 747, with initial certification and first deliveries planned for this year.