Taxiing at India's top 6 airports to cost airlines Rs 2K cr a year by 2021

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An average 15 minutes of taxiing at six of the busiest airports in the country is likely to cost airlines Rs 2,000 crore annually by 2021, compelling them to explore ways to reduce fuel consumption and switch to greener ways of steering the aircraft on the ground.  

According to a study, the total fuel burnt is likely to increase by 40 per cent by 2021--going up from 1,67,000 tonnes in 2016 to 2,34,000 tonnes--as airlines expand their operations.

Of the total 85 operational airports in the country, airports at Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, and Kolkata handle nearly 65 per cent of the total air traffic.

The cost of fuel burnt is likely to go up from Rs 1,400 crore in 2016 to nearly Rs 2,000 crore in 2021, according to the findings of the study carried out by Ashwani Khanna, vice-president, Delhi International Airport Limited.

Khanna, who was sharing his research at an event conducted by the Aeronautical Society of India, has taken into account the taxiing time of aircraft departing from the top six airports and calculated the cost of fuel burnt while taxiing at Rs 1,400 per minute for a narrow body aircraft and Rs 3,100 per minute for a widebody aircraft.

The fuel burn will also take its toll on the environment as carbon emissions register a proportionate increase of 40 per cent by 2021--up from 5,27,000 tonne to 7,39,000 tonne, the study said.

Aviation experts fear that with airport infrastructure failing to keep pace with the growth in traffic, waiting time for aircraft is only bound to increase and there is unlikely to be any respite for airlines in terms of expenditure on fuel.

"Slots are almost over at major airports. This situation will result in an increase in waiting time for both departing and arriving aircraft," said Joint Director General, DGCA, Lalit Gupta.

The experts say alternate ways of taxiing can help airlines save up to six per cent of their total fuel costs. Traditionally, an aircraft taxiing between the main terminal and runway uses jet engines causing a significant fuel burn.

Alternate ways of taxiing deploy an electric system with engines stopped.

WheelTug is one such taxi system which enables airplanes to taxi forward and backward with the help of electric motors installed in the nose wheels. These motors are powered by the aircraft's Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) and don't use the jet engine. It offers $500,000 in savings annually per aircraft, as per the manufacturers.

Full service carrier Jet Airways signed a Letter of Intent (LoI) with WheelTug in 2012.

According to the airline's Senior VP of Flight Operations Captain Sudhir Gaur, once WheelTug is implemented across its entire fleet, the airline aims at saving nearly 20,000 tonnes of fuel annually and reduce CO2 emission by 65,000 tonnes.

There is also the Electric Green Taxiing System (EGTS), which uses motors installed in the main landing gear wheels. Taxibot is a yet another system which involves a semi-robotic, pilot-controlled towing tractor which lifts and holds the aircraft nose wheel and then transports the aircraft from terminal to runway and back without using the aircraft's engine.

Jet fuel represents one of the largest expense items for an airline and accounts for nearly 30 per cent of its total operational costs, according to experts.  

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