U-Turn at Atlanta Airport to Speed Trip to the Gates

It looks like little more than a big U-turn.

But officials say the groundbreaking three-quarter-mile strip of pavement will save passengers time when they fly into Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, and it could trim millions of dollars from airlines' fuel costs every year.

The "end-around taxiway" slated to open next month at the world's busiest airport is a $42 million project that will change the way many passengers landing at the airport get to their gates.

"It looks insignificant, but it will have a major impact," said Kathryn Masters, the aviation engineer running the project.

The end-around --- officially called Taxiway Victor --- is the first of its kind in the nation. It will provide the biggest boost to Hartsfield-Jackson's efficiency since the billion-dollar fifth runway opened last year, said Ted Allen, the airport's deputy director for project management for planning and development.

"It enhances safety and it increases capacity at the same time," he said.

Bob Bonanni, a Washington-based national resource engineer for the Federal Aviation Administration, said he knows of only one other end-around at a major airport in the world: in Frankfurt, Germany.

The big U-turn at the end of two of Hartsfield-Jackson's north runways comes into play when flights are taking off and landing toward the west, which occurs about 70 percent of the time.

Currently, airplanes that land on the northernmost runway --- up to 700 a day --- have to wait in line for clearance to taxi across the other, active runway to get to the gates.

"We have to create artificial gaps in the takeoff sequence to get planes across the runway," Masters said.

Soon, planes landing on the northernmost runway will simply travel to the end of that runway, make a sharp left and then turn right onto the new 4,200-foot-long taxiway that dips 30 feet below runway level before emerging at the gate area. The deep dip in the taxiway lets planes taking off from the adjacent runway continue their takeoffs without interruption.

Kevin Jones, a senior loan officer from Vinings who flies out of Hartsfield-Jackson twice monthly, said he's had plenty of experience with delays getting back to the terminal after landing.

"Who hasn't? It's just part of the deal," he said. "Sometimes the wait isn't that long, but sometimes it is. I guess it depends on traffic."

Jones said he's looking forward to the new taxiway and any time savings it affords. "I don't know why they didn't do it years ago," he said.

Airport officials did not offer a specific time savings, but FAA studies have cited a 30 percent improvement in overall runway "efficiency."

The current setup can create major delays for both just-landed flights and departing planes. And it creates serious safety concerns.

This month an air-traffic controller in the Hartsfield tower was decertified when he approved a Delta Air Lines flight for takeoff and then cleared two other just-landed aircraft to taxi across the same runway en route to the terminal. The controller caught that mistake and ordered the Delta flight to abort takeoff.

Atlanta-based Delta, which operates about 75 percent of the flights out of Hartsfield-Jackson, backed the end-around taxiway from the start. The Federal Aviation Administration paid for half the project and passenger fees financed the remainder.

"Customers will notice improved on-time performance, while Delta will benefit from increased fuel savings," Delta spokeswoman Gina Laughlin said.

Annual fuel savings are estimated at $26 million to $30 million for airlines using those runways. The reason: Airplanes aren't sitting on the runway as long waiting to take off or waiting to taxi.

Other airports will be keeping tabs on how well the Hartsfield-Jackson end-around works. Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport plans to create its own end-around next year.



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