Delta looks to save fuel on taxiways

WheelTug plc and Delta Air Lines entered into an agreement in which the airline will assist WheelTug in developing a new system that has the potential to enable pilots to back away from gates without a tow tug, and taxi to and from takeoff and landing points without using jet engines. The new WheelTug system aims to reduce fuel consumption, noise and emissions in airport terminal areas and taxiways, as well as reduce airport and gate congestion that can lead to reduced ground equipment delays.

“Certainly we expect this to be a ‘win’ for us on the business side by reducing our costs, but we’re also excited about the potential for removing some complexity from gate operations for our ground personnel and doing it in an environmentally friendly fashion,” said Walt Klein, Delta’s director of Quality, Engineering and Training.

Full development and approval of the system is expected sometime in 2009 and Delta, as WheelTug’s launch customer, could begin installing the system on its fleet of B-737NG aircraft as early as late 2009. The WheelTug system includes powerful electric motors in the airplane’s nose wheel that will enable pilots to back away from gates without a tow tug and then taxi to their takeoff, or a remote start point before starting the airplane’s engines. After landing, the pilot can turn off the jet engines and use the system to drive the airplane to its gate.

Further, the agreement gives Delta the right of first refusal to provide installation and maintenance services on WheelTug systems for itself and for other airlines that desire such services. Delta already performs maintenance for more than 100 customers and this could serve as another opportunity to continue to grow its maintenance insourcing business. Delta has also acquired warrants to buy 600,000 shares of WheelTug plc at an average price of $36 per share.

Isaiah W. Cox, president of WheelTug, said, “We are delighted that Delta is our U.S. development partner. Delta’s passengers will be the first to realize its benefits, and we believe that over time WheelTug will provide welcome benefits to all fliers, airlines, and airports.”