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WestJet unveils battery-powered luggage tugs

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WestJet unveiled new technology on Earth Day that will allow it to switch from gasoline to electricity-powered luggage tugs in airports -- the tractors that tow baggage on runways.

WestJet unveiled new technology on Earth Day that will allow the airline to switch from gasoline-powered motors to electricity-powered luggage tugs in airports -- the tractors that tow baggage on runways.

The airline is the first to make the transition to this new technology, which runs on rechargeable lithium polymer batteries. As part of the pilot scheme, WestJet is collaborating with Richmond-based technology firm Corvus Energy to implement and monitor the new equipment.

The baggage tug, resembling a small tractor, pulls carts loaded with passenger luggage to and from the aircraft without any reliance on fossil-fuel energy sources. The first model began operating at Calgary International Airport in October, and was able to continue working well in low temperatures.

"The successful integration of Corvus Energy's lithium ion battery systems into WestJet's ground support equipment represents a tremendous validation of our technology," said Brent Perry, chief executive officer of Corvus Energy.

"The introduction of a lithium ion GSE solution is a significant development for the aviation sector in terms of environmental impact and worker safety and we're pleased to be at the forefront."

The transition from fossil fuel to electric power without causing detrimental effects to performance appears to be successful, as baggage can be transported to and from aircraft for approximately 11 flights per day on a single charge of the batteries.

Corvus CEO Brent Perry said the conversion kits will eventually be able to convert other gasoline-fueled airport equipment to electricity, and this could include machinery that moves planes and loads baggage on to aircraft.

In the next few months, two of the machines will be delivered to Whitehorse airport, Canada, where the technology is expected to be useful in a climate where normal lead-acid batteries would freeze -- and gas-powered tugs are not permitted in ground-level baggage areas.

Image credit: CNW Group/WestJet

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Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure