ATSAP Spurs Changes in ORD Taxiway Names
Friday, June 01, 2012
Editor's Note: This is the latest joint article between NATCA and the FAA spotlighting success stories of the Air Traffic Safety Action Program - ATSAP.
Changing taxiway names is expensive, especially at a place like O’Hare International Airport where there are dozens of them.
New signs have to be made and installed; surface markings have to be repainted; new airport diagrams have to be created and distributed. But by voicing their concerns at runway safety meetings and through ATSAP reports, controllers at O’Hare International Airport Tower were able to convince the FAA’s Office of Airports and the City of Chicago that the safety benefits of changing the taxiway names outweighed the cost.
As part of the O’Hare Modernization Project, an ongoing effort to revamp the airport’s layout and add several new runways, taxiways have been added and names have been changed.
Because there are so many taxiways at O’Hare, the standard single letter names, like Taxiway M, have all been used.
That left the city’s Department of Aviation to name taxiways with “double different letters,” according to NATCA O'Hare Tower Facility Representative Dan Carrico.
Taxiways were given names like “ZV” and “ZY.”
That naming system followed guidelines established by the Office of Airports, but it led to confusion among pilots and controllers.
When controllers told pilots to turn off on Taxiway ZV, a common path to Runway 28, the pilots frequently asked if that was a single taxiway or if they were being instructed to travel via Taxiway Z and then Taxiway V, according to Carrico and Jim Krieger, the staff manager at O’Hare Tower.
“A few months after that taxiway was created, we started getting read back errors from pilots on the taxi route,” said O’Hare Tower controller Craig Burzych. “And foreign pilots were stopping and asking questions.”
The confusion also caused problems in dispatching emergency equipment.
A few months ago, a pilot flying a 747-cargo jet landed with a fire warning and requested help from the fire department, Burzych said.
A controller asked the fire department to meet the plane at Taxiway ZJ. Instead, the fire department went to the intersection of Taxiway Z and Taxiway J, which is about two miles from Taxiway ZJ, said O’Hare controller Kyle Andrews.
Other taxiways were designated with the addition of a number, creating names like M1 and M3. That posed problems because a new international terminal at O’Hare has gates with the same names.
A controller once called for emergency vehicles to go to gate M5, but they showed up at Taxiway M5, delaying their response to a stricken passenger.
Burzych talked to other controllers in the tower and found they were having similar issues. So he raised their concerns at a monthly Runway Safety Action Team meeting at O’Hare, and pilots in attendance said they thought the potential confusion might create a safety risk. Controllers at O’Hare Tower also filed ATSAP reports on the issue, Krieger said.
Initially there was push back from the city and the Office of Airports because the changes would be expensive, and the city had followed current FAA guidelines.
But because the participants at the Runway Safety Action Team meeting had voted to make the issue an agenda item, it had to be pursued.
New FAA-wide taxiway naming guidelines were also in the works, and the issues at O’Hare raised awareness that things like double different letter taxiway names should be addressed.
A suggestion through IdeaHub addressing confusion over taxiways that have the same names as airport ramps and parking aprons at an Alaska Airport also prompted the FAA to move to update its taxiway naming standards.
Burzych and Andrews used break time to study taxiway names at other airports and come up with a plan for renaming O’Hare’s taxiways and they worked with the Office of Airports on the new guidelines.
They also had the support of the pilots who flew in and out of O’Hare. Captain Mike Maas, representing the Air Line Pilots Association International, led a pilot effort to write letters and make phone calls in support of the changes to the taxiway naming guidelines.
Once the guidelines were released, city officials realized the names would have to be changed.
All the new taxiways at O’Hare are now being named according to a plan based on Burzych and Andrews’s work. And the city is working on a schedule for renaming existing taxiways.
When the effort is finished, there will be no more double different letters. Instead, taxiways will be named with a single letter or two of the same letter, Taxiway KK for example. That system has been used effectively at places like John F. Kennedy International Airport.
And no taxiways will have the same name as gates. Taxiway M, and the smaller taxiways off it that are named using M and a number, will be changed to taxiways N, N1, N2 and so on. There is no terminal, and thus no gates, named N at O’Hare.
There are more than 100 taxiways at O’Hare. So some are named using double letters followed by a number — AA1 for instance. But those designations were reserved for taxiways in a far corner of the airport, where operations are limited.
“They kept the names for the most commonly used taxiways simple,” Krieger said.
Thanks to the diligence and hard work of controllers at O’Hare Tower and their input into taxiway-naming guidelines, other airports across the country should be able to avoid giving their taxiways names that might cause confusion and introduce risk into the system.
“I really do believe that we saved lives with this change,” Burzych said. “The city, the airlines and the flying public may never know it, but we did.”