U.S. Air Force Assesses Innovative Aircraft Tow Vehicles

Ball Janik LLP represents an Oregon small business manufacturer of cutting edge ground support vehicles that position a wide variety of aircraft for the commercial airline industry. The company’s aircraft “tugs” are electric powered and “capture” the airplane for towing with a unique towbar-less mechanism. Airports world-wide feature tugs made in their Astoria factory. Although the firm’s tugs dominate much of the domestic commercial aviation market, company sales to the Department of Defense remained stymied, due to outdated regulations requiring the use of towbars when positioning U.S. Air Force jets and cargo planes. The company needed a fresh strategy to breakthrough into the DOD market. How could this innovative company capitalize on antidotal appreciation of their tugs by Air Force flight line personnel? How could it leverage its ongoing success with commercial aviation?

Working closely with the firm’s management and marketing team, Ball Janik LLP developed a plan to gain acceptance and approval of towbar-less tugs by the U.S. Air Force. As part of that strategy, we analyzed the Air Force programmatic and safety issues associated with aircraft positioning. Strong support of the Oregon Congressional delegation was marshaled, leading the Air Force to include Oregon tugs in an innovative research and development program, assessing alternative energy systems. This multi-million dollar, R&D effort highlighted the benefits of electric powered tugs, when compared with legacy petroleum powered systems.

As a result, support for towbar-less tugs has swelled from airfield tarmacs to Air Force design tables and conference rooms. The Air Force is poised to add a fleet of towbar-less tugs to its equipment inventory, improving readiness, while reducing pollution and lowering costs. Our Oregon client is now well positioned to win competitive contracts, providing the lion share of those tugs to the Department of Defense.