D/FW Breaks Ground on Plane Taxiway System

For passengers at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, taking the scenic route could mean getting to the gate faster.

The airport began construction Tuesday on a $66.7 million taxiway system that runs along the perimeter of D/FW's busiest runways.

Once the 18-month construction project is complete, air traffic controllers will be able to direct pilots to taxi around the runways rather than wait until it's clear to cross them.

"This project is just another step toward efficiency and safety for the flying public," said Ava Wilkerson, a regional director for the Federal Aviation Administration, which is footing the bill for 75 percent of the project.

The taxiway system is initially limited to the airport's southeast quadrant - but officials hope to gain similar federal funding for the other three corners in the next decade.

Pilots landing at D/FW must navigate across active runways more than 1,600 times a day while departing flights wait.

Even if a runway is clear, it can take 40 seconds to a minute for each aircraft just to get the necessary approvals and drive across. During the busiest times of the day, the carefully choreographed dance between arriving and departing flights leaves aircraft - and passengers - in a holding pattern.

"Passengers will see fewer ground delays and quicker taxiing to their gates," said Jeff Fegan, D/FW's chief executive.

Delays at D/FW have fallen steadily over the last several years, as American Airlines Inc., by far the airport's largest carrier, has revised its schedule to avoid concentrating too many flights at certain times of day.

Airport officials estimate the project will increase D/FW's capacity by 30 percent, by reducing the time planes are left waiting.

For air traffic controllers, the new system offers important safety benefits. Communication between pilots and the control tower could be reduced by as much as 21 percent, and the length of the conversations could be cut by 25 percent.

That would leave controllers more time to focus on other operations, and "lessens the chance for miscommunication," said H. Dean Paxton, an air space procedure specialist for the FAA who works for D/FW's air traffic control.

D/FW has enjoyed a low runway incursion rate, ranking last among the FAA's top 20 airports during the fiscal year that ended last fall. The airport hasn't experienced any of what the FAA considers the "most serious" incursions since 2001.

The FAA is also testing a runway status lighting system at D/FW that is aimed at reducing the risk of runway incursions.

D/FW, in coordination with FAA and NASA, has been studying perimeter taxiways since the early 1990s, starting with a simple drawing on a napkin.

In 2003, NASA used a virtual reality simulator to get a clearer picture of how the new taxiway system would work. The FAA granted its approval last year.

D/FW's perimeter taxiway project has caught the attention of airport operators in the U.S. and in Europe.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport has a scaled down perimeter taxiway project under construction.

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