Diesel-powered large and small tugs are a burden on the environment, block airport roads, and tie up capacities by regularly requiring small and large maintenance work, as well as diesel refuelling.

Mototok, which has been developing and producing in Germany since 2003, is a pioneer in electric aircraft towing. Mototok-Tugs have gained an excellent reputation as a professional tool for hangar space optimisation, and positioning of aircraft of all sizes and types. Mototoks are radio-controlled, electrically operated tugs of comparatively small size. They can be completely recharged in just a short amount of time. The German engineers are now using this experience to optimise the pushback process.

Used by the best

One of the reasons for flight lateness is the delay in ground handling. Often the aircraft is ready to take off, the passengers are on board, but the pushback operator with his tug is not yet on-site. This waiting time must be shortened – or better yet, should not even occur.

British Airways has been using Mototoks for Terminal 5A at Heathrow since August 2017. One Spacer 8600 Mototok was placed at each of the 25 gates. They perform up to 1,100 electric pushbacks per week. The tugs are charged at the gate overnight, are always available and do not have to be transported over long distances within the airport area to the place of operation. The operation of the tugs and the actual pushback is carried out by the existing ground staff as an additional task to the classic handling work on the aircraft. An official driving licence is not necessary, a one-day training of the ground staff, which is carried out by Mototok itself, is sufficient.

All operators wear a wireless headset with a microphone, which switches on and off automatically. The pushback is carried out by a single person without a wing walker. The wireless remote control allows the operator to maintain a relatively large distance of about 15m from the aircraft. This gives the operator an optimal overview and enables them to react immediately if a source of danger arises. When wing walkers provide assistance, misunderstandings can never be ruled out and the operator’s reaction times increase accordingly. In addition, operator and pilot have eye contact during pushback.

The balance is consistently positive. According to British Airways, delays have been reduced by 70% since the Mototok tugs were first used. Tom Stevens, British Airways’ head of airports operations, says, "We are the most punctual of the major short-haul airlines flying out of London, and this technology helps us stay at the top." In addition, local CO2 emissions and maintenance costs have been reduced thanks to the purely electric drive. Over 120,000 pushbacks were carried out with this new concept at Terminal T5A alone.

Other airports have also recognised the advantages and are now modernising their fleets. All Nippon Airways has already successfully tested the Mototok- Tug and will soon be placing a number of units at different airports in Japan. And Iberia has recently ordered a large number of Mototoks for Madrid and Barcelona’s airports.

Currently, the Spacer 8600 can be used to push narrow bodies like the Boeing 737 and the Airbus A319/320, as well as regional jets like the Airbus A220, Embraer E-Jets and Bombardier Dash 8. Mototok will introduce the Spacer 400 for narrow and wide-body pushback at the end of 2020.