Monday, May 9, 2011

Awkward moment revealed

Let me start off by giving you a link to the Airport Diagram. We're looking southwest from the tower, over the south end of the International Terminal. The primary intersection in play here is Taxiways Bravo and Charlie at Taxiway Romeo. There's a funny thing about that, that I just noticed while putting this together: The airport diagram I'm referencing, as well as the current one, incorrectly show Taxiway Romeo stopping at Taxiway Charlie, when in fact it actually goes through to Taxiway Bravo.

When I showed you this photo last week, there were a couple of things that I didn't mention. The first is that Taxiway Charlie was closed between Taxiways Papa and Charlie-12 for construction. The second is that the Qantas B747 is under tow.

So it looks like the Qantas B747 is the key aircraft here - the one whose movement is most important to resolving the situation. As such, here's what seems to be happening: The Qantas B747 is being towed to the Qantas maintenance hangar, which is accessed from Taxiway Delta on the north side; the Virgin America A320 parks at Terminal Three, also on the north side; the American Eagle ERJ behind Virgin America is on its way to Runway 24 Left for departure. Meanwhile, the Continental-United B737, with a Skywest CRJ coming up behind, is on its way to Terminal Six, and is waiting for the Virgin America and Eagle Flight at Bravo-13.

Except that there's a third thing that I didn't tell you: That there was another aircraft involved that wasn't yet in the picture, but can been seen in the next one:

So here's what's actually happening: As previously stated, the Qantas B747, the Virgin America A320, and the American Eagle ERJ are all headed for the north side of the airport. In the current state of airport construction, the nearest route to the north side of the airport is Taxiway Romeo. All three of them are waiting for the American B767 coming the other way down Taxiway Romeo from the maintenance ramp, on its way to Terminal Four.

Meanwhile, the Continental-United B737 on Taxiway Bravo is on its way to Terminal Six, but is holding short of Taxiway Bravo-13 to wait for the Virgin America and American Eagle. The Skywest CRJ on Bravo is holding short of Romeo, ostensibly to allow the American B767 to turn in front of it.

The ground controller's dilemma is that there may not be enough room behind Continental for the American B767 to turn onto Bravo, and the B747 can't move forward until the B767 can clear the intersection. Continental can't pull forward to give American more room because of Virgin and Eagle, and they can't move until Qantas does.

So the solution was for the American to make a right turn onto Taxiway Charlie and then use Taxiway Uniform to make the U-turn onto Taxiway Bravo, behind the Skywest CRJ. The real challenge for the ground controller was to convince the mechanic driving the B767 that, although he wanted to taxi to the Terminal, he was first going to have to turn away from it and go the other way. It's kind of like trying to turn a horse away from the barn: You can do it (usually), but it isn't easy.

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