Buttigieg touts airport projects to boost safety, efficiency

FILE - In this Aug. 26, 2015 file photo, an American Airlines jet taxis on a runway as the the sun rises in the east sky looking from the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport in Grapevine, Texas. The federal government is spending more money on airport improvements designed to reduce the number of times that planes must taxi across active runways. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on Thursday, March 30, 2023 to announce $29 million in federal money to help build a new taxiway at the nation's second-busiest airport. (AP Photo/LM Otero, file)
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AP Airlines Writer

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) β€” 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 a plane has to cross an active runway to get to where it’s going, that’s a source of risk,” Buttigieg told reporters.

Buttigieg said the most serious runway incursions β€” when planes or ground vehicles are too close together β€” 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 β€” 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 β€” 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.