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Urban air operations Sustainability

Autonomy is the word of airport future

Wednesday, 21 December 2022

Jan Vana is director at WheelTug, an innovative company in the field of electric taxiing. He leads the overall business development and he is primarily responsible for relationships with airlines, aircraft operators, airports, air navigation services, and MROs. ADW talked with Vana about autonomous vehicles in the aviation industry. 

“We are convinced that autonomy is the way forward for the aviation industry”, Vana says. “Because airside operations nowadays are a little clumsy, and it certainly requires more automation.”

Vana believes WheelTug, which makes it possible for aeroplanes to taxi electrically and even drive in reverse mode,  is the gap filler on the road to fully autonomous air side operations. “I appreciate that the aviation industry is conservative. It's conservative for good reasons, safety reasons. But even a conservative industry must move. And now is the time to move ahead to full autonomy in the future.” 

Human interaction to stay

Although a strong advocate for autonomous vehicles, Vana isn’t convinced that autonomous operation of vehicles will be safer than human operations. “There will not be autonomy without human interaction. We cannot have uncontrolled autonomy: that will get out of control. Human beings still need to be involved and still need to ultimately be in the loop, as they are for automated takeoffs and landings.”

We all benefit

Still, Vana is surprised that an aircraft still cannot taxi independently - autonomously - to and from a gate. “While aircraft have been able to land and even take off independently - with autopilot - for decades. Isn't that strange?"

Although airlines are Vana’s main clients, because WheelTug is an onboard technology  that makes it possible for planes to taxi electrically and also provides a reverse gear to the aircraft, the whole airport ecosystem will benefit from the invention. “Airports, the air traffic controllers but also the ground handlers will ultimately reap the benefits of autonomous airside operations.” 

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