updated 8/1/2007 7:04:34 PM ET 2007-08-01T23:04:34

The world's busiest airport soon may curb gate delays for arriving passengers by busing them from planes directly to concourses when airline gates are full.

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At times, planes at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport wait 30 minutes — and sometimes up to two hours — in front of concourse gates that already are occupied by another aircraft, typically after weather delays back up traffic at the airport. In June, about 40 planes a day waited at least 30 minutes for other planes to leave concourse gates, airport officials said.

Next month, however, airlines will have the option of having those waiting planes taxi to another part of the airport where passengers can deplane and travel to the airport's concourse by bus. After passengers are loaded on the buses, it will take them about five minutes to travel to the concourse, said Matt Davis, the airport's senior aviation planning manager.

"We've had a lot of problems with holdouts," Davis said. "Aircraft come in and don't have a gate. People sit out on taxiways for a long time."

The city of Atlanta, which operates the airport, approved on July 16 a $2.5 million proposal for four new buses that can transport about 80 passengers and their carry-on luggage. The plan also includes sets of mobile stairways that allow passengers to leave planes and another vehicle to help disabled passengers.

Small planes such as regional commuter jets would only require one bus and two buses would be used for bigger aircraft such as the Boeing 757 or 767. The airport would use three older but larger vehicles for giant planes such as the Boeing 747, Davis said.

Airlines requesting the service will reimburse the city for the use of the buses, Davis said.

Orlando-based AirTran Airways, which has a large hub at the Atlanta airport, supports the new plan, said spokesman Tad Hutcheson.

"(Delays) can happen, especially on weather days, ... you can have planes that have to wait for a gate and that can be frustrating for passengers," Hutcheson said. "ATA supports any initiative that improves the customer experience at Hartsfield-Jackson."

Chicago's O'Hare International Airport — the world's second busiest airport — has a similar bus service available in emergencies for passengers if gates are blocked with other planes.

"It's not something we've had to do very often, simply because O'Hare has so many gate options," said spokesman Gregg Cunningham.

Los Angeles International Airport buses international passengers on a daily basis to and from one of its terminals to remote gates where planes are parked.

"We don't have enough gates," said spokesman Tom Winfrey. "These are fixed facilities ... they are not used for overflow."

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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