Monday, January 24, 2011
Axis of bedEvil
This isn't really an Axis so much as it is a Trio, so I probably should have instead titled this the "Terrible Trio". Or perhaps the "Three Ouch-keteers". But the published title came to me first, and once I had typed it in I liked the way it looked. You're welcome to dream up your own titles and proclaim them in the comments.
In any case, the three aircraft in the opening picture all bedevil the controllers at LAX. The cause is simple: These airplanes don't fit. The B777-300 and the Airbus A340-600, seen here modeled by Emirates and China Eastern, respectively, are so long that when one arrives on Runway 24 Right, it can not be held short of Runway 24 Left on the usual exit, Taxiway AA. Or rather it can be held there, but the controller still loses the use of Runway 24 Right because the tail of the aircraft is still sticking out over the runway. Taking the aircraft all the way to the end of the runway to Taxiway BB doesn't help, because it won't fit there either. So, when one of these shows up, the controller has to come up with a plan to get it across the departure runway with the least amount of inconvenience to himself and the other aircraft.
The south side of the airport doesn't have this problem so much because the runways are farther apart and there is Taxiway H between them. This allows the aircraft to be held between the 25s without it having to be perpendicular to the runways (It must be said, however, that if for some reason the aircraft does end up on one of the perpendicular taxiways, it is too long to hold it there and still use both runways). The other reason the south side doesn't have this problem is that most of the A346s and B773s arrive from across the Pacific, and most of the usual arrival routes deliver them to the north side of the airport.
Besides the carriers already mentioned, we see A346s from Lufthansa and Virgin Atlantic. B773's are brought in by Air France, All Nippon, EVA, Japan Air, Korean, and V Australia.
The third member of the Axis of Bedevilment is the Airbus 380, which is even worse. As I recently mentioned, Runway 24 Right is the preferred arrival runway for the A380 because there are less ground handling considerations for getting it to Gate 123 than there are for the other terminal gate that can accommodate it. Once the A380 turns onto AA, both of the 24s become unusable. Holding it on Taxiway BB is an option to allow the controller to continue using Runway 24 Left, but the Right is still unavailable. And those are the only taxiways that aircraft is allowed to use. In fact, if the A380 lines up on Runway 24 Left for departure and is then unable to begin takeoff for some reason, the first allowable taxiway for the aircraft to exit the runway is AA, about a mile and a half down the runway. It takes an A380 about five minutes to taxi from one end of that runway to the other. I got to learn this first-hand a year or so ago. Which would have been fine if it had been the only aircraft wanting to use that runway. But it wasn't.
The south side of the airport doesn't fare any better with the A380. Unlike the north side, where it can use either of the runways, on the south side there is only one runway approved for the A380: Runway 25 Left. If the A380 has exited 25 Left onto Taxiway H, both of the 25s become unusable. If the A380 holds perpendicular to the runways, the one behind the aircraft is still unusable. If the A380 exits onto Taxiway B, then Runway 25 Right is still unusable. Because of ground obstructions, the A380 can't use Runway 25 Right for arrival or departure; instead it either uses Runway 25 Left, which can only be reached by crossing both runways and taxiing on Taxiway A. As I've already related, crossing runways is a hassle because if you can't get the aircraft across both runways at one time, you lose the use of the runway behind the A380 while it's holding. And so the preferred departure runway is 24 Left, even if the A380 was parked at Gate 101 on the south end of the International Terminal. Which means that it has to taxi all the way to the other side of the airport, which requires a squad of escort vehicles to clear the access roads. And then once the A380 has departed off Runway 24 Left, we still can't use it for other aircraft until the airport operations guys have inspected the length of the runway for damage caused by the A380's departure. We've lost a number of runway signs due to the jet blast from its outboard engines, and the debris created is then a hazard to subsequent aircraft.
So far, Qantas is the only regular A380 operator at LAX. We've been hearing rumblings about Korean, Singapore, Lufthansa, Emirates, and Virgin Atlantic; at the moment it sounds as if Korean may be the next.
All of these considerations are not limited to the Local Controller, who manages the runways (normally thought of as the 'tower' controller by pilots); the Ground Controller has to be aware of them as well. One of the many things a new ground controller at LAX has to learn is to recognize when one of these aircraft (A346/B773/A380) is on final, because the local controller is not likely to hold the aircraft between the runways if it can be helped. So the ground controller has to be prepared to get that aircraft almost immediately, and needs to have a plan for fitting it into the rest of his ground traffic - even while not yet knowing exactly where it needs to go on the airport.
Air New Zealand is the latest to bring in B777-300s; I saw my first just this past week. By itself, it's hard to get a good feel for how large this aircraft really is. So try this: