Pushback is an airport procedure that results in an aircraft being pushed backwards away from an airport gate by external power, which is usually provided by pushback tractors or aviation tugs.
You may consider it strange that external power is used in order to push an aircraft backwards but, although the majority of aircraft are able to move backwards (known as a powerback) it may lead to avoidable damage being caused, either to the engine, other equipment being used during the procedure, or the terminal building itself. This is why pushback tractors and aircraft tugs are generally preferred to ensure that aircraft is safely moved from the gate.
In regards to tugs, they are hugely capable of moving the majority of aircraft ranging from light, single-engines to business jets, narrow-body airliners and more. Another positive is that aircraft tugs are able to successfully move the majority of aircraft without the need for adapters, although they tend to be required when it comes to moving more unique planes.
More recently, electric tugs have become more commonly used within the aviation industry due them being more environmentally-friendly when compared to gas or diesel alternatives. Another benefit is that electric tugs can also be safely operated inside a closed hanger, which provides them with an increased level of flexibility when compared to gas and diesel tugs.
So, if you hear someone in the industry refer to a “pushback tug“, you will now fully understand what procedure they are referring to. In short, they want a tug to push an aircraft away from an airport gate.
We will be looking at pushback tractors in a different article coming soon!