When your plane lands at DFW Airport, why does it take so long to get to the gate?

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As the fourth busiest airport in the world, Dallas-Fort Worth Airport often has airplane traffic jams that rival the gridlock on the region’s highways.

Well, OK, maybe it’s not that chaotic. But when a plane lands on a DFW runway but then has to taxi across one or two active runways to get to its gate, the result is lost time for air travelers — and the potential for deadly airplane collisions.

Local and federal officials aim to fix some of the problems associated with the runways and taxiways at the airport, which is now nearly 45 years old.

On Friday afternoon, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao visited DFW and announced that her office had signed a letter of intent to provide $180 million in funding to build perimeter taxiways — also sometimes called end-around taxiways — at DFW Airport.

Essentially, when an aircraft lands at DFW, it will be able to taxi to the end of its runway and go around all the other active runways, rather than cutting across them.

“This will reduce the risk of inadvertent runway incursions,” Chao said during a news conference Friday afternoon at DFW’s Terminal B, where a handful of airport, FAA and American Airlines workers gathered to hear her speak. “These improvements are expected to reduce delays by 7 percent over the next 20 years, saving more than $270 million.”

The letter of intent is enough of a commitment for DFW officials to build the project, and seek federal reimbursement for up to half of the cost at a later date.

DFW already has built a perimeter taxiway on its southeast end. That extra padding of concrete, which opened in 2008, prevents roughly 500 to 700 incidents of airplanes crossing active runways per day, when planes at DFW are landing to the south, FAA spokesman Lynn Lunsford said.

But on the other ends of DFW, which has seven runways, arriving aircraft often must cross active runways to get to their gates.

The funding announced Friday will provide roughly half the money needed to build two more perimeter taxiways on the northeast and southwest corners of the airfield. That work will be done in about five years, said Sean Donohue, DFW chief executive officer.

American Airlines' first flight to Reyjkavik, Iceland was celebrated with pancakes and Coca-Cola at DFW Airport. Wowair and Icelandair also recently started DFW service to Iceland.

So how much time will it save for air travelers who often arrive at DFW but spend five to 10 minutes taxiing to their gate?

Donohue says it’s difficult to offer a prediction of how many minutes it will shave off travel times. He said the ultimate benefit will come when DFW builds its fourth perimeter taxiway in the northwest quadrant of its airfield — a project that isn’t yet funded.

But in the meantime, he says, the more perimeter taxiways the airport can build, the more likely it will be able to continue to grow without safety concerns.

Gordon Dickson: 817-390-7796; @gdickson
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