Shut-Down Airport Runway Reopens in Atlanta

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport reopened its oldest runway Monday, following a repaving project that put it out of service for two months and torpedoed on-time performance.

But the 10,000-foot runway is temporarily limited to daytime use until the airport restores lighting to certain signs showing where jets should wait while other aircraft are using the runway, said Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen.

It was unclear when the lighting will be fixed. Managers at AirTran Airways said they were told it could happen as soon as late Monday.

The missing lighting could at least briefly postpone some relief the runway was expected to bring, because Hartsfield-Jackson's peak period of flight delays is typically 8 p.m. or 9 p.m., when the runway will be out of service until the sign lighting is restored.

But Jim Tabor, vice president of operations at AirTran, said he is still happy to see the runway back in business a day or two earlier than he had expected.

"It's like getting your Christmas presents early," although maybe without batteries, said Tabor.

Airport officials plan a news conference today to mark the reopening of Hartsfield-Jackson's oldest runway, which first went into service in 1969.

Starting in September, the $90 million project resurfaced the runway with new, 20-inch-thick concrete pavement.

Airport officials said in a news release that they "anticipate a reduction in delays" with the return to a five-runway configuration.

The airport opened a new fifth runway in late May, but the closing of the older runway for repaving negated any gains in the ability to handle more traffic.

The Atlanta airport and its top three airlines --- Delta, AirTran and Atlantic Southeast --- fell to the bottom of the industry for on-time performance in September after the switch back to four runways. Almost half of arriving flights at ASA, a regional feeder for Delta, were late during the month.

Hartsfield-Jackson was 31st out of 31 airports in on-time performance for the month, with just under 61 percent of flights arriving within 15 minutes of schedule.

Delays were worse than the same time last year, even though the airport operated with four runways in both periods. Government and airline officials blamed the delays on a variety of factors, including the repaving project, bad weather, increased air traffic and the reshuffling of the traffic flow to use the fifth runway.

Airport General Manager Ben DeCosta has said no more repaving projects are expected for another decade.

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