JFK's Bay Runway Project Improves Pavement & Reduces Delays

Author: 
Jodi Richards
Published in: 
September
2010

After a four-month closure, the Bay Runway at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) reopened to traffic on June 28, just in time for the busy summer travel season. The reopening marked the completion of the first phase of a $348.1 million project to improve the physical condition of the runway and operational efficiency of the airport.

As one of the nation's busiest airports, JFK serves 48 million passengers each year; the Bay Runway handles a third of the airport's traffic.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns and operates JFK, identified "two converging needs" for the project. Last refurbished in 1993, the Bay Runway's asphalt overlay was nearing the end of its lifespan. At the same time, the runway needed to be widened to accommodate A-380s. "We needed to widen a second runway so we would have intersecting runways for various weather conditions," explains Susan Baer, director of aviation for the Port Authority.

Although the airport was already working on reducing departure delays, the Bay Runway project proved to be the "perfect opportunity" to combine all of the projects related to that initiative, Baer says.

High-speed aircraft exits and access taxiways were added to the runway, allowing FAA controllers to move aircraft more nimbly around the airport, Baer relates. Hold pads or areas were also constructed at the departure end of the runway to allow for queuing of more than one aircraft at a time. The Port Authority expects the changes to reduce flight delays by 10,500 hours each year.

A or B?

Planning for the Bay Runway project began more than four years ago, Baer recalls. Working closely with the airlines and FAA, the Port Authority conducted an "extensive" cost-benefit analysis of concrete vs. asphalt, with the lifecycle benefits of concrete prevailing. While concrete was more expensive, it is expected to last four times as long and produce long-term savings of $500 million, as well as reduce the need for ongoing maintenance.

The Port Authority also compared a four-month closure with performing runway work at night and reopening to traffic in the mornings. The four-month closure brought a "certain amount of pain," Baer explains, "but it allowed us to get the work done so much faster."

Had the runway improvements been completed the traditional work-at-night way, she estimates the project would have taken close to a year to complete. Equipment would have been brought out every night and put away the next morning; the area would have to be swept clean of all foreign object debris. The four-month complete closure also eliminated daily "are-we-going-to-get-this-open moments," notes Baer. "You can only do so many feet at night, and you only get so many hours."

The Port Authority pre-qualified eight contractors large enough to handle the project, and only those contractors were allowed to bid on the project. "We needed someone with a vast amount of this kind of intense airport experience, and that's what we got," Baer says, referring to contractor Tutor Perini.

Setting the Boundaries

Crews spent the first week constructing a fence that transformed the worksite from an aeronautical project into a landside project and reduced the level of security escorting required for workers. "That was a huge savings in time, staff resources and fuel burn," Baer explains. "We weren't waiting to take trucks out."

Because of the scope of the project and activity levels at JFK, Tutor Perini was required to build two on-site concrete plants. To meet the project's tight schedule, crews needed a backup plant to be immediately up and running if the active concrete plant failed, notes Baer. The contractor located the plants about 500 feet from the end of the runway, allowing for almost continuous paving.

Contractors also built a dedicated road for construction vehicles, and all materials were preordered and stored at JFK to prevent interruptions to the workflow.

The Port Authority used "both carrot and stick" to keep the project on schedule, says Baer, and monitored the contractor's progress daily. "There were incentives for finishing early; there were very large penalties for finishing late," she elaborates.

Throughout its duration, the runway project is expected to support 2,500 jobs, including direct construction work, asphalt/concrete production and aeronautical lighting and food services.

Environmental Soundness

"The Port Authority has some very strong sustainability goals that we are working toward," Baer relates. "Every day we get a little bit better; all of our new projects are built to very high environmental standards."

During the Bay Runway project, approximately 300,000 tons of asphalt millings were reused on the runway's sub-base, taxiways and service roads. Seven acres of turf grass was installed to help reduce erosion and improve filtration.

Clearing the Deck

During the four-month closure of its longest runway, JFK had three other runways to utilize. Project planning included significant efforts by the airport and FAA controllers to develop different runway-use configurations, Baer says. "When you have the luxury of four runways - especially this Bay Runway, which is so long - you get into a pattern that everyone is comfortable with," she explains. "This (closure) forced us to look at how to still manage that level of traffic with the remaining three runways."

Domestic airlines at JFK worked closely with the Port Authority to reduce their schedules during construction, and the airport instituted an aircraft metering program.




Facts & Figures

Project:
Runway Rehab & Widening

Location: John F. Kennedy International Airport

Cost: $348.1 million

Owner: Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

Contractor: Tutor Perini

Runway Lights:
Crouse-Hinds

The metering program, explains Baer, is similar to procedures used at JFK and other busy airports during snow operations: Schedules are cut back and the airport allocates slots to aircraft that are likely to leave. Based on the airlines' schedules and what the FAA knows it will be able to move, JFK assigns departure slots using two technologies: Sensis Aerobahn from the Airport Surface Detection Equipment, Model X (ASDE-X) and IROPsnet, a web-based system for irregular operations, which the Port Authority developed with Passur.

Marrying the two systems, Baer says, allows the airport to know what is going on out on the airfield and meter traffic fairly across the system. "It is as though we are doing snow ops all the time," she describes, "and it really works."

The program saves "enormous" amounts of fuel burn, Baer adds, noting another environmental plus.

For example, a flight may be slated to depart at 2 p.m., but congestion or weather could cause delays. Flights are placed into 15-minute groupings, and the airport can tell the airline with certainty that the flight is going to leave around 3 p.m., thus avoiding problems with tarmac delays and creating a more pleasant experience for passengers. "Knowing you have a busy airport, knowing that weather will happen, knowing that other things will happen, there are going to be delays. But managing those delays and your customers' expectations is really critical," Baer says.

Since the runway reopened, JFK is testing the metering program with its busier summer schedules. Currently, it is only used during peak times. It has had some "blips," Baer acknowledges, and it has been "a learning experience" for all. Overall, though, the airport considers it an "extremely positive improvement."

The metering program has been so successful, Baer reports, that most of JFK's airlines hope it continues. "It's enforced cooperation," she notes, "but they really can see the benefit and have been very helpful in helping us refine it and make it better. It's a great, cooperative team effort at the airport."

Several other airports have contacted JFK for guidance about using the program at their facilities, and Baer hopes to export it to LaGuardia Airport next year.

"I think it is a wave of the future to use technology to manage your ground operations," Baer says.

Subcategory: 
Runway/Ramp

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