Aircraft Tractors: Traditional vs. Towbarless Tugs


When considering what type of tractor you should buy, it can be challenging to choose between conventional or towbarless aircraft tugs. Both types of vehicle have advantages and disadvantages that largely depend on your needs and objectives. Do you want to eliminate blind spots? Are you looking to increase personnel safety? Do you strive to promote operational efficiency? We will consider all these goals and more when comparing towbarless and conventional tractors.

Ensuring the well-being of your crew is imperative, and protecting your aircraft from damage could save you thousands of dollars. The aircraft tug that reduces the risks of personnel injuries and towing operation accidents is an important factor to consider. Furthermore, improved efficiency, maintenance, and performance can potentially save tens of thousands of dollars in overall operational costs, especially when considering your specific demands.   

To determine the superior features of either conventional or towbarless aircraft tugs, we will look each tractors attachment process, visibility, maneuverability, learning curve, and braking system.  

Attachment Process for Aircraft Tugs

A safety consideration when using a traditional aircraft tug is the task of physically attaching the tow bar to the tractor after it has been connected to the aircraft. Repeating this process increases the risk of a potential ground crew member injury. 

As its name suggests, towbarless tractors do not use a towbar. Instead, they capture the nose landing gear with or without straps.. This process eliminates a variable which could cause an injury.

Moreover, traditional aircraft tractors will often require different tow bars for each aircraft type serviced. Towbarless tugs, have a universal ability to interface with multiple types of aircraft, eliminating the need for additional expensive towbars and equipment.

In general, conventional tractors are most efficient for pushback operations that deal with one aircraft type. This eliminates the cost of extra tow bars and the operational inefficiencies of constantly switching tow bars to work with different aircraft. As a result, towbarless tugs are much more efficient and cost-effective than traditional tractors when working with a variety of aircraft types.    

Operator Visibility for Aircraft Tugs

The ability of operators to see all-around them is essential for accurate maneuverability and overall safety. Reduced visibility increases the risk of injury or an accident. 

Conventional aircraft tugs usually have multiple blind spots. Some aircraft tugs possess more visibility than the other. For example, towbar tugs with an overhead cab have less visibility than an open tug. However, even the open aircraft tugs due to higher body design and construction.

Eagle vehicles have been designed to eliminate many of these variables with low profile designs and hitch sight tunnels

On the other hand, towbarless tugs offer better overall visibility when compared to non Eagle vehicles. The lower body design of towbarless tractors eliminates more blind spots than traditional tugs. However, some towbarless tractors require that the driver seat is facing toward the aircraft at all times. In some circumstances, this seat position can limit visibility.

In general, towbarless tugs provide superior visibility compared to most brands of traditional tractors. A conventional aircraft tug may offer more visibility and safety depending on the needs of your particular operation.

Aircraft Tugs Maneuverability

Towbar tugs are unsurprisingly more difficult for pushback operators to maneuver. Because of the towbar, traditional tractors have severe pinch points and two pivot points. The maneuverability limitation conventional tugs can place the driver station in very unusual positions and create restricted angles of vision. 

By eliminating the towbar, maneuverability becomes unparalleled. That is exactly what towbarless pushback tugs accomplish. Towbarless tractors offer a much smaller turning radius. For operations which require tractors to work in small areas, towbarless tugs can be much more efficient.

Braking Systems for Aircraft Tugs

The braking systems generally differ within conventional and towbarless tractors. Towbar tugs typically use a centralized hydraulic braking system featuring a shoe or disc brake. On the other hand, towbarless tractors utilize regenerative braking.

The primary difference between regenerative and hydraulic braking systems is that regenerative braking is more efficient and provides controlled slowing of the vehicle instead of sudden jolts. 

In the end, regenerative braking allows tractors to make a smoother and controlled stop, eliminating a jolt to the aircraft.. It also reduces the potential of jack-knifing when stopping a tractor on a slippery surface.  

Determining the Best Aircraft Tug for Your Operation

Overall, towbarless tractors are growing in popularity due to typically improved efficiency and cost-effectiveness. However, traditional towbar tractors are still in common use and can be superior to towbarless tractors depending on the specific needs of your operation. 

When deciding on which type of tractor to purchase for your operation, call or contact an Eagle Tugs representative. We would be happy to help you determine whether a towbar or towbarless tug would be most useful for your operation.

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