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Potholes Don’t Have a Chance on Runways
By Albert Snedeker

No one likes potholes, especially Hartsfield-Jackson’s Quintin Watkins. In fact, he and his team work to ensure that not even the slightest pit or crack develops into a pothole on the Airport’s runways and taxiways.

Potholes Don’t Have a Chance on Runways

“Obviously, potholes are a serious issue for aircraft and can force us to close a runway,” said Watkins, who, as airside manager, is responsible for maintaining all that is paved on the airfield. “Our mission is to find these defects and fix them before a pothole gets a chance to form.”

Traditionally, runway surface inspection has been done the old-fashioned way -- by eyeballing the pavement. “In recent years, we’ve been using a digital imaging system attached to the back of a van traveling at highway speeds to scan the runways for cracks, chips and other defects that can lead to potholes,” said Watkins.

Watkins and his colleagues developed an innovative method for “stitching together” long strips of runway images. Now, instead of examining each strip separately, the team of pavement inspectors can combine the strips to provide a complete overview of a particular runway section. The strips are closely inspected on a computer screen.

“Stitching these images together is not as easy as it might sound,” said Watkins, who is currently working on his Ph.D. in civil engineering at Georgia Tech. A single file is huge. Roughly the size of a parking space (13 feet by 6.5 feet), each image can take up several hundred megabytes of computer storage.

Dan Malloy
Data from the Air Transport Association indicates that airfield delays cost airlines more than $60 per minute, per plane delayed, which added up to more than $8 billion in 2007. According to Dan Molloy, Hartsfield-Jackson assistant general manager for development, this technology means the Airport saves hundreds of work hours each year by using improved inspection techniques.

Cost savings associated with our runway inspection program allow us to focus resources on other Airport maintenance and improvement programs.

Passengers and airlines are also benefiting from the reduced amount of time that the runways are out of service for inspection,” said Molloy.

Watkins added, “Now we get in, collect our images very quickly, and then we’re out of the way. It’s a win-win for everyone, except the potholes!”

© 2008 Hartsfield-Jackson News. A Publication from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. All rights reserved.


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