DFW Airport

Sec. Pete Buttigieg Launches Plan to Avoid Aircraft Collisions at DFW Airport

$28.8 million airfield safety project will allow jets to avoid taxiing across active runways

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The federal government is spending more money on improvements at Dallas-Fort Worth International and other airports that officials say will increase safety by reducing the number of times that planes on the ground must taxi across active runways.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg stood before a bulldozer and mountain of dirt Thursday as he announced that DFW, the nation's second busiest airport behind Atlanta, will get $29 million more for a new “end-around taxiway.”

DFW officials say that when work is completed in 2025, it will eliminate the need for planes to taxi across two of the airport's main runways.

“Every time you cross the runway is a time there is a risk. So, by eliminating the need to go across the runway when taxiing, we are taking away one more source of risk, and one more situation that could lead to a close call or worse,” said Buttigieg.

NBC 5 rode with Secretary Buttigieg, as he went on a tour of a runway and learned more about safety procedures at DFW. He also met with air traffic controllers.

“There is nothing like being on the ground, and being with the workers who get this done, understanding their perspective,” said Buttigieg.

Earlier this month, flight crews of three planes circling DFW had to change their flight paths because they got too close.

“Now, the severe category of close calls are still very rare. but they are happening more than they did before. That’s why FAA has convened a safety summit.  They put out safety alerts, and we’re doing engagement with the airlines as well as our own air traffic controllers to get back to basics and make sure that as we see this very swift increase in air travel that everything remains safe,” said Buttigieg.

Buttigieg said the most serious runway incursions — when planes or ground vehicles are too close together — are happening twice a month now instead of once a month.

“We want to get that to zero, and so there is also a paradigm shift of treating the close calls with the same level of seriousness that we treat actual incidents," he said — declining to even utter the word “accidents.”

Plans for the new taxiway were in the works before the recent spate of close calls between planes at airports around the country. And it won't prevent incidents like the one in January at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, when an American Airlines crew took two wrong turns and crossed a runway in front of a departing Delta Air Lines jet.

But Buttigieg and the Federal Aviation Administration are eager to show the public they are responding to increasing concern about air safety.

The FAA's acting administrator, Billy Nolen, held a “safety summit” of airline-industry groups two weeks ago and called for more data about the recent close calls. Nolen followed that with an alert to pilots and everyone else in aviation — in effect, telling them to pay more attention to safety procedures.

At DFW Airport, the FAA has promised to provide $180 million for a recently completed taxiway on the north side of the terminals and the new one on the south side. Officials say they will reduce the amount of time passengers must spend in planes taxiing between gates and runways.

DFW is one of four airports Buttigieg is touring this week to tout infrastructure projects supported by the Biden administration. The others are Charlotte, North Carolina, where a similar end-around taxiway is being built; Little Rock, Arkansas; and Oklahoma City.

Air travel is bouncing back in the post-pandemic world.  This past holiday season, problems at Southwest left travelers stranded. Buttigieg says there are more rules in place addressing passenger rights.

“The airlines are pushing their hiring, they need to do right by their passengers, and we are going to be looking over their shoulder every step of the way, making sure that they do, and holding them accountable then they don't,” said Buttigieg.

Copyright NBC 5 News and The Associated Press
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