Thrust reversers are a common feature of many commercial airliners, allowing engine-produced thrust to be directed forward so as to slow the momentum of an aircraft. While this thrust can technically be used to reverse the movement of an aircraft so as to let it move backward, this system is never used for operations such as departing from airport gates or hangars. Instead, tug trucks are relied on for push back operations. While one can argue that using thrust reversers in aircraft is cheaper than procuring a special vehicle for push back, there are various reasons as to why this is never practiced.
As stated before, reverse thrust occurs when an aircraft engine has exhaust air pushed forward rather than out of the rear of the assembly, ensuring that the aircraft can slow itself down for an easier stop. This feature is never used during flight, instead only being carried out once the aircraft touches down on a runway surface. If forward speed dropped and the aircraft continued to use reverse thrust, it could technically begin to move backward. Despite this, the use of reverse thrust to move backward from an airport gate or hangar is actually banned in many situations as a result of the safety concerns surrounding the practice.
When aircraft engines operate, they suck in a vast amount of air so that it can be mixed with fuel for more optimal combustion. With a constant blast of air around the aircraft, debris may be thrown around, and loose objects may even have the chance of being ingested by the engine. As this can lead to damaging the engine, the airport terminal gate, or any surrounding equipment or objects, it is unsafe to use such engine features without having first cleared an area around the powerplants. As clearing areas is much more time consuming and less efficient than simply having a truck come and pull the aircraft, the practice is rarely optimal. Beyond safety, there is also the simple concern of noise pollution as a result of engine operation near individuals, making the truck pushback operation a better choice as well.
While modern pushback operations are made possible through the use of tug trucks, this has not always been the case. For example, reverse thrust was actually used in some instances during the 1970s and 1980s, the practice continuing until around 2006 with some airliners. Since then, most reverse thrust pushback operations have ceased due to the previously mentioned hazards and bans.
In the modern day, there are a number of airplane tugs that may be used, common types including light, towbar, towbarless, and electric towbarless variations. Light aircraft tugs are best for small aircraft, often being simple to use while requiring physical labor to move. With towbar and towbarless airplane tugs, aircraft of varying sizes can be moved to where they need to be, the difference between the two being whether or not there is a towbar or aircraft hydraulic system for mounting and attachment. As the final type, electric towbarless airplane tugs are quite similar to their counterparts while relying on an electric motor to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
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