How To Operate An Aircraft Tractor

Proper operation of an aircraft tractor (also known as a tug or towing vehicle) is crucial for the efficiency and safety of an airport’s daily activity. While no article can be a substitute for proper training, you can view this as a general overview of standard procedures and important tips for aircraft tractor operation.

Check Towbar Condition

The aircraft tractor towbar connects the tractor to the landing gear on the aircraft’s nose. At the tractor attachment, the towbar is able to freely pivot laterally and vertically. Through these rotations, it can change what direction the plane’s nose is pointing, and thus change the direction the plane is moving.

After you attach the towbar to the plane, make absolutely certain that it is properly connected to the landing gear and the tug before attempting movement. Additionally, check that your towbar’s shear pin is in place and that it isn’t broken. The shear pin prevents the tractor and aircraft against damaging one another by snapping if the bar becomes overstressed. The bar is then disconnected and only needs to be reattached to the nose gear to try again (with a new pin in place).

After you have confirmed that your towbar is in good condition and secured to both the tug and aircraft, you can get moving.

Look Before You Move The Aircraft Tractor

As an aircraft tractor operator performing an airplane pushback, you are acting as the aircraft pilot’s eyes — the pilot cannot see what’s behind the plane. As such, you need to have keen spatial awareness as you move the craft. Look in the direction you intend to move. Take time to ensure you will have proper clearance during all parts of your route and that you will not interfere with anyone else’s movements.

As you operate your aircraft tug tractor, you must also be in communication with both the pilot (or other qualified brake rider in the cockpit) and the air traffic controllers, who will help determine where you can and cannot move the aircraft. They will keep you updated on the positions of other operators, which are as subject to change as the arrival and departure times of airplanes due to factors such as last-minute maintenance, pilot switching, and weather.

In short, always be attuned to your surroundings when operating an aircraft tractor, just as you would driving your car on the highway.

Go Slow And Steady

Set a steady speed and try your best to stick to it. This will help with the above step, giving you ample time to process how much space you have going forward (or backward).

Maintaining a slower speed is also important on days when traction might be compromised. A fuel-soaked flight deck or wet, icy concrete will hinder any aircraft tractor’s maneuverability. Remember that other operators will be having a similarly difficult time in such conditions — going slowly will allow you to keep an eye on your fellow drivers and ensure there are no traffic jams on the tarmac.

Shift To The Proper Gear

It may seem obvious, but keeping your aircraft tug, tractor, or tow vehicle in the appropriate gear will minimize strain on the engine. You will prevent excessive wear on the machine as a whole this way.

A tip for shifting gears: If your engine speed drops by 10%, shift into a lower gear. Keep a close eye on your speed fluctuations to help prevent any breakdowns.

Avoid Sharp Turns

While the shear pin we talked about earlier will help prevent damage to your aircraft tractor and plane, it can’t prevent everything. Taking turns that are too sharp can cause the towbar to hit the back of the pushback tractor, causing both internal and external damage.

You should also keep in mind that, when you make a sharp turn, the plane you are pushing or pulling has to follow. Consider whether you have enough clearance to do so, or if other tractors or aircraft would get in the way.

Also, consider how familiar you are with the aircraft tractor you’re operating. Not all aircraft tractors have the same dimensions and turn radius, which greatly determine the maneuverability of the tractor. You may attempt a turn your tractor isn’t capable of making, leading to tractor and aircraft damage.

Become An Aircraft Tractor Operator With Eagle Tugs

Eagle Tugs offers aspiring aircraft tractor operators extensive commissioning, maintenance an operation training. To learn more, contact us today.


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