Managing During Construction

A close-up look at how Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport is managing its airfield during major construction — an issue that’s coming under increased scrutiny by FAA. Also, Midway’s new runway arrestor system.


Chicago – Airport operations management during construction, always a challenge, has come under the FAA microscope in recent times with major airfield projects going on across the U.S. The Comair Flight 5191 crash in Lexington, KY, this past August, in which airfield construction is suspected to be a contributing factor, has heightened the scrutiny. At O'Hare International Airport, which is embarking on one of the most ambitious reconstruction efforts ever, the focus is on enacting oversight redundancies and "moving the fence" — essentially pushing airside operations landside when possible. Meanwhile, ORD is primed to award $1 billion in contracts in 2007, and will begin laying down pavement in April enroute to a projected November 2008 ribbon-cutting to a new north runway and an extension of runway 10L.

To date, 14 contracts have been awarded to eight companies employing individuals who are not familiar with airfield operations. To partially overcome this obstacle, OMP relocates the fence line so operations which would be executed airside are now being performed landside. To promote security, contractors also have limited movement capability — restricted to the work area.

As with the construction of runway 14L and the 14L threshold displacement, currently underway, the end of the runway was relocated in order to create a secured, but less restrictive, work area. "[Consequently] we're not worrying as much about the aircraft movements and the truck movements or a truck going through an active area or runway," Andolino says.

Even though they are working landside, the laborers have to comply with all Chicago Department of Aviation's rules and regulations — the badging, background checks, the fingerprinting — that's required for airfield access. "They get the same FBI background check as everyone else," says City of Chicago commissioner of aviation Nuria Fernandez. "There is no special dispensation because they're only here for a short period of time. Regardless of their length of tenure of their contract, they all have to be subject to the same security screening."

Isolating construction activities landside is not always an option. For construction performed on an active airfield, Part 139 training is mandatory for any worker having access, as required by FAA. Because most of the work is performed at night, workers must ensure that the area is returned to conditions that FAA would find acceptable for aircraft movement.

"It is important that the contractors get certified so they restore the airfield to the proper condition each time," Andolino explains. "Not only is the contractor educated, aware, and certified in these measures, but we also have our construction and program managers as well." The managers are aware of each day's activities and can restrict people's movements.

The multilayered organizational hierarchy requires direct reports up the chain of command, with a resident engineer managing and overseeing airfield operations for the construction manager and another project manager onsite as well.

According to OMP deputy director for construction Christopher Arman, they have essentially created a "zone defense" to restrict unauthorized movement. Before the contractors get to their operational base, they have to pass through an airside security post. This is the control point to gain access to the worksite.

Because of the limited movement capability, there is a secured path to the site, sometimes a single road, leading up to the security checkpoint. After this point, a laborer can only access the airfield with the appropriate credentials; otherwise, a security or Department of Aviation escort is required. Vehicle movement is restricted on the airfield, and flagmen are used when crossing an active taxiway.

"[Workers] are confined," Arman says. "At each of those decision points, you have another controlling element, so they are penned in. They have a main vertebrae, a couple of spokes where they can go, but only so far without having additional need and credentials."

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