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NEWSPAPER ARTICLE
The Dallas Morning News

June 13, 2003

Test could help shorten airport delays

Virtual reality shows value of perimeter taxiways atD/FW

By SUZANNE MARTA
Staff Writer

The frustration rings true whether you're traveling for business or leisure.

After a lengthy flight, your plane lands at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport only to sit on the tarmac for several minutes before getting clearance to cross the runways and head to the gate.

But a virtual-reality test done with the Federal Aviation Administration, pilot groups and air traffic controllers at NASA Ames FutureFlight Central showed Thursday that wait times for departures and arrivals could be significantly reduced by diverting planes onto perimeter taxiways.

More important, using perimeter taxiways eliminates much of the risk for runway run-ins.

“It's a no-brainer,” said Jim Crites, D/FW's executive vice president of operations.

The seemingly simple solution wasn't so easy to see.

For more than a decade, D/FW and FAA officials have been using computer simulations and other research to study how perimeter taxiways might change airport operations. But the tests couldn't accurately portray the time it takes for a person to access a situation and make a decision.

The virtual-reality test, on the other hand, showed what it would be like for actual users to operate the system.

The D/FW simulation was the first of its kind in the nation, and the results are expected to to provide a model for airports around the country.

By using perimeter taxiways that take the aircraft an extra mile around the end of the existing runways, D/FW would:
  • Eliminate the need for arriving aircraft to cross active runways. D/FW's air traffic controllers manage up to 20 planes at a time, longtime controller Fred Hochreiter said. “Every time you cross a runway, there's a chance for someone to slip and get hurt,” American Airlines pilot Raymond E. Welsh said.
  • Increase airport capacity by 30 percent, which would delay the need for an eighth runway.
  • Decrease the number of times air traffic controllers must communicate with pilots by as much as 21 percent and shorten those conversations by 25 percent.
Arriving planes must pass a minimum of 10 intersections, and air traffic controllers such as Mr. Hochreiter act like orchestra conductors - carefully managing each plane's position to bring it into play at the right second.

“The perimeter taxiways are safer and easier,” said Mr. Hochreiter, who's been a controller for 21 years. “You just have to clear the planes for takeoff and move them out.”
  • Save the airport and airlines at least $20 million in labor and fuel costs because planes wouldn't sit on the tarmac as long, Mr. Crites said.
  • Reduce delays. “What really irks a customer is a delay to get into the gate,” Mr. Crites said.
During good weather, D/FW can handle 25 arrivals and 20 departures every 10 minutes. Arriving planes are delayed an average of three minutes - well within the FAA's standard of six minutes.

But for departing flights, the delays are bumping up against that six-minute limit, Mr. Crites said.

“As the economy recovers… and air traffic builds, those delays will become unacceptable,” he said.

Before the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, air traffic had grown so much that departures were delayed as much as eight minutes

D/FW expects to build the taxiways within five years. The project is estimated to cost as much as $200 million, and airport officials hope federal grants will pay for much of it.

E-mail smarta@dallasnews.com

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