United States Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg made a stop at DFW Airport Thursday to break ground on a $28.8 million airfield project he says will cut down on near-accidents between aircraft.

There have been more than 700 incidents across the country so far in 2023 in which airfield mistakes could have led to aircraft accidents, the Federal Aviation Administration has reported. That includes a near-collision between a FedEx cargo plane and a Southwest Airlines plane in Austin last month, which prompted an FAA investigation.

Buttigieg said these incidents are why the FAA has made aircraft safety a priority this year.

“While they remain extremely rare, more than one — more than zero — is unacceptable,” he said Thursday morning, planes roaring closely overhead. “And that’s why we continue to focus on issues across the system, and opportunities to control those issues.”

Construction has begun at the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport on an end-around taxiway at the southwest end of the airfield. Similar to a U-turn lane for aircraft, it would reduce the need for planes to cross paths and therefore reduce risk of collision. The newest taxiway is set to be completed in 2025.

3-30-23 end-around taxiway graphic.png
A Department of Transportation graphic shows how an end-around taxiway, highlighted at the bottom in white, ensures planes taking off and landing in an airfield do not cross paths.

DFW International is the second-busiest airport in the world in passenger traffic, according to the Airports Council International. It’s why Buttigieg said it was important for him to visit the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

“DFW, I think, will continue to be an economic engine, not just for this region, but really for the entire country,” he said.

The FAA has already provided $180 million to DFW Airport’s now-complete end-around system at the northeast end of the airfield. Sean Donohue, chief executive officer of DFW Airport, said these infrastructure improvements make flying easier for passengers, too.

“It’s obviously a tremendous safety impact, a very positive safety impact,” Donohue said. “But it also allows our customers to get to the gate faster, on average about four minutes faster in terms of their taxi.”

Buttigieg’s stops in Dallas as well as previous visits to North Carolina and Arkansas follow the FAA’s Safety Summit, earlier this month, a conference to address flight safety incidents. He said that’s already resulted in heightened awareness of air safety issues with the use of the Safety Alerts for Operators system and an overall reinforcement of best practices.

Jonathan Miranda, a pilot with Irving-based Envoy Airlines, was at the summit. He said the new taxiway also helps prioritize pilot safety.

“I commend the Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Administration for utilizing our nation’s infrastructure investment to make these important safety improvements,” Miranda said. “My colleagues and I work hard every day to ensure the safety of the flying public in and out of this airport and the many others we service.”

Buttigieg was also one of the first U.S. officials to speak out after Southwest Airlines canceled and delayed thousands of flights after a winter storm in December. But he said he and the FAA are working constantly to protect consumer rights and hold airlines accountable.

“Every time a passenger gets on a plane — every time I get on a plane — they can do so with the knowledge that not just men and women of the FAA, but the airline and those who are designing these facilities are working to ensure they’re safe,” Buttigieg said.

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Toluwani Osibamowo

Toluwani Osibamowo | KERA

Toluwani Osibamowo is a general assignments reporter for KERA. She previously worked as a news intern for Texas Tech Public Media and copy editor for Texas Tech University’s student newspaper, The Daily...