Kalmar Motor AB was founded in 1969 as a specialist vehicle manufacturer and has been producing conventional aircraft towing tractors since the early 1970s. Today, it offers the GSE market a comprehensive range of tow tractors, as technical sales manager Sean Bryan tells Airside
What does Kalmar offer today by way of tow tractors and how has this product line developed over the years?
Having produced conventional aircraft towing tractors since the early 1970s, late in the 1980s Kalmar Motor was the first company to produce a towbarless tractor for commercial aircraft, the first tractor being designed and manufactured with the assistance of longstanding customer SAS Airlines.
Today, Kalmar Motor manufactures three models of conventional tractor: the FB150E, the FB250 and the FB600 – the FB250 and FB600 were formerly available only in diesel versions, but just this year Kalmar began offering the FB250 and FB600 as electric variants. The FB250 handles up to 30 tonnes, the FB600 up to 70 tonnes for the A380, and both will use lithium ion batteries for stand pushbacks and inter-gate towing; the small, lower cost FB150 will continue to use 80V lead acid batteries.
We also have five models of towbarless tractor: the TBL50, TBL100, TBL180, TBL190 and the TBL800.
These are available in the follow variants:
TBL50 – Diesel, 400V electric or hybrid (hybrid being electric drive with a diesel engine to charge the batteries)
TBL100 – Electric only (this is a lower cost unit for pushback only, operating at 80V DC)
TBL180 – Diesel, 400V electric or hybrid
TBL190 – Diesel, 400V electric or hybrid
TBL800 – Hybrid (having an 800V electric drive with diesel engine to charge the batteries)
Do you feel that you offer something that is ideal for all types of customer, whatever their requirements?
Kalmar first manufactured 80V lead acid electric towbarless tractors some 28 years ago, but in 2009 we produced the first of the new hybrid generation towbarless tractors. The first of these new-generation hybrid tractors was sold to SAS and since then we have continued to develop and introduce other towbarless tractors into the marketplace. Today, we have every model in operational service with customers around the world.
At last year’s inter airport show, you were particularly promoting your TBL180 and 190 tractors; are these flagship parts of your portfolio of tugs right now that are proving particularly popular with customers?
At inter airport 2017 we focused on clean/green operations and had our TBL180 hybrid on the stand, alongside our newly redesigned TBL100E. The TBL100 was the first TBL model that Kalmar Motor designed for SAS around 30 years ago, and was a flagship for Kalmar Motor for around five years, but as the demand for a towbarless tractor with more operational capacity increased the TBL180 soon came to replace the TBL100.
Now 30 years on, customers are looking for a lower cost electric option to handle A320 and B737 series aircraft. In July 2017, our engineers set their sights on the newer version of the TBL100 and by October the unit was ready for inter airport. The interest for the TBL100 is very high because of its performance, lower operation costs and of course, its return on investment.
Other than the range of products that you offer, what sets your tugs apart from similar products, do you think?
What really sets us apart is our innovation and, most of all, our ability for ‘creative simplicity’. It actually takes more engineering effort to design something simply than just simply design it. Many customers are concerned about the complexity of a towbarless when compared to a conventional tractor, but – when they see how simple they are to operate and maintain – they soon see the benefits.
Our TBL50 is really the only towbarless tractor on the market for higher speed handling of regional jets and narrowbodied aircraft. We also have our patented F.A.C.T system (Force, Analog, Control Terminal) on the TBL50, which is extremely safe in terms of handling small aircraft as it measures nose wheel forces and activates a turntable release system should the force limit be reached.
Have you made any recent improvements or additions to your vehicle or system portfolio that we haven’t already discussed?
We look to improve our products on an ongoing basis, especially the towbarless tractors. Our engineers constantly aim to reduce maintenance and our TBL800 for widebodied aircraft (up to and including the A380) is testament to this. The cradle system is very clean, with reduced sensors (less electric cabling) and most of the moving joints have ceramic bushing that needs no automatic lubrication (thus less hoses). By reducing the components on the cradle, everything looks simpler and less complicated.
What plans for further improvements do you have?
We have many plans for aircraft handling with the TBL100E, but this is something that is still in design stages, so I am afraid we cannot say too much about this right now.
Other than in terms of the move towards more electric tugs, how is this segment of the GSE market changing, and how is Kalmar changing along with it?
Almost all of our customers are moving towards facilitating a cleaner environment, and therefore electric drive-line is seen as a major step forward. With our electric and hybrid tractors, we see operational savings in excess of 60% and maintenance savings in excess of 50%, so airports and customers see a reduced carbon footprint and save on costs. I am sure that over the next three years our sales of electric and hybrid tractors will more than triple.