On these roads, airplanes have the right of way. Always.
“It’s kind of like driving around the city but you’re asking for permission to turn on the street,” said Trudi Biedrzycki, Duty Manager for Airport Operations at Pittsburgh International Airport.
The airport’s four active runways and 53 taxiways are busy thoroughfares for the people on the ground, from baggage handlers and mechanics to aircraft marshallers, who guide the planes in and out of their gates.
And then there are people like Kandace Adams, an Airport Operations Supervisor at PIT. She’s gone through extensive training to drive on the airfield.
“You definitely have to be very, very alert out here because you would think that, especially at night, you could see or hear a big plane coming towards you, but it’s kind of hard to see sometimes,” she said. “You just always have to be aware of where you are, you have to be aware of your surroundings.”
Driving the airfield requires special training and passing a practical test, similar to a driving test, to become certified.
“You have to know what every light means, what every sign means so that you don’t go somewhere you shouldn’t be,” Adams said.
Drivers on the airfield know they are secondary. Aircraft always have the right of way, and drivers must know where to stop and where to hold short.
“As you’re getting instructions driving, you’ve got to be able to adapt because you never know when they’re going to tell you, ‘Hey, there’s an aircraft coming, I need you to go this way,’” said Mark Nassan, Operations Supervisor at PIT.
“The tower is constantly watching outside those windows, and they’re keeping an eye on everybody,” Biedrzycki said.
Adams has worked in Operations for six years. Even with all her experience and training, there’s no room for complacency.
“I just always make sure that I am prepared, my mind is clear,” she said.