New System Lets Planes at DFW Dock in Bad Weather

Pilots raise safety concerns over auto-docking

Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport officials said a new $7 million system allows planes to pull right up to the gate without ground workers.

The electronic docking system tells pilots when and where to stop. Lasers size up the plane, and a series of lights in a box give directions.

Bad weather can force workers off the ramps, but the new system means passengers no longer have to wait for the weather to clear before the plane can get to the gate.

"We want to make sure our passengers have the ability to go to the gates and just don't simply sit there staring at the terminal for the next 45 minutes, wanting to get to the gate," said DFW Airport spokesman Perfecto Solis.

The airport bought the system in hopes of avoiding the nightmares that received national attention at other airports in which passengers wound up trapped on planes for hours.

American Airlines said the new system worked perfectly in thunderstorms in August.

"We actually saved a number of airplanes on average for 30 minutes," said AA spokeswoman Marilyn DeVoe.

But the docking system is already under fire from American Airlines pilots

"Unfortunately, it's another area where they're reducing the margin of safety," said Scott Shankland, of the Allied Pilots Association.

Union leaders said pilots using auto-docking have hit ground equipment at DFW and two other airports.

But American Airlines said there's no reason for concern.

"There's actually been a lot of emphasis with our ground employees to make sure that equipment is out of the area where the airplane parks," DeVoe said.

The airport said the ability to get passengers off the airplane and into the terminals during inclement weather scenarios is a great investment.

DFW has auto-docking units at about 80 gates and hopes to install them at all of its gates soon.

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