Streamlining The Process
Bush Intercontinental undergoes a $3.1 billion capacity enhancement with relative ease
By John Boyce, Contributing Editor
HOUSTON — Officials at this city’s Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) have combined some good fortune with a favorable business climate, good ideas, and canny leadership to do what many airports can only dream about: Get a massive capacity enhancement project streamlined and under construction in less than two years.
the end of 1998, Houston Airport System (HAS) Director Richard Vacar,
A.A.E., and his staff started work on getting the necessary approvals,
particularly of their Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), for launching
an ambitious $3.6 billion construction project at the System’s three
airports — Bush, Hobby, and Ellington. Intercontin-ental was the
centerpiece and would account for $3.1 billion of the expenditures. IAH
was also the focal point of the EIS.
Twenty-one months later, Sept. 8, 2000, the FAA formally approved the project with a Record of Decision (ROD). Construction was delayed a couple of months while the Army Corps of Engineers reviewed the project and signed off on it, but at the beginning of 2001 ground was broken and the work was underway.
"The FAA, in some respects," Vacar says, "didn’t know how to act because most of the EISs they’ve done around the country have been real problematical and real vitriolic and everything else. Ours wasn’t like that at all.
"Because we had the support of the environmental community, we were able to get the various agencies — Texas Parks and Wildlife, TNRCC (Texas Natural Resources Conserva-tion Commission), EPA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife — to come together on how we were going to mitigate the impacts here and get agreements on all
A MULTITUDE OF TASKS
All of the work — some 36 different projects — at IAH is expected to be finished by mid-2004 but the vast majority (most notably, two runways) will be finished by summer of 2003. In the current fiscal year alone, there is $700 million worth of construction being done.
The work includes new construction of an 8,500-foot third parallel runway, an additional international terminal, a 600,000-square-foot air cargo facility with accommodation for 20 wide-body aircraft; a consolidated car rental facility; new and expanded garages; and, taxiways and a taxiway bridge. In addition, there is the widening and lengthening of a former GA runway from 6,000 feet to 12,000 feet; renovation and reconstruction of four terminals; expansion of aprons; and reconstruction of many landside roads and airport accesses.
While the speed of the EIS approval had aviation observers agog in admiration, the speed with which the construction is moving is, if not unprecedented, at least unusual, particularly with the airport in full operation. And, most important parts of the project are going on simultaneously.
"At the end of the day," Vacar says, "you have to know what your objectives are, know what it takes to get there, and put the various resources in position to get it there. Then you try to keep it on track. So far, I think we’re doing well that way.
"The operational aspects of this kind of disruption just takes a lot of people just sitting down and looking at it and I really credit my operational group — the airport manager, the operational managers — for being able to figure it out and pull this together."
Houston, throughout the past 100 years, has been one of those cities whose economic cycles seem to have sharper ups and downs than most other cities, largely because of its reliance on energy production. As oil went, so went the city.
As a result, this fourth largest city in the country has developed a resilient character that encourages economic growth and production. That growth-oriented attitude, however, hasn’t always been kind to the environment; witness its recent dubious distinction of having the dirtiest air of any city in the country.
It is these factors — growth orientation and environmental problems — that played major roles in how Intercontinental got through the many times frustrating processes required for a major project.
"People here want economic development," Vacar says. "They want things to happen, they have a very positive, can-do attitude. I think that factor lends itself immensely to what we were trying to do and how quickly we were trying to do it. I didn’t have a lot of resistance."
William Willkie, a consultant on the project from Leigh Fischer Associates in San Mateo, CA, agrees, explaining that Continental Airlines, the principal tenant at Bush, fully supported the project.
"There was little distraction and opposition," he says. "You had a combination that was considered beneficial to a lot of people and a commitment on the part of the major stakeholders to devote the resources to see it through. You had continuity and technically, the work was well done."
Noise, air quality, and wetlands mitigation were the major issues facing Vacar and his staff as they approached their task of getting the work done.
Because Bush is 22 miles north of downtown, development and population in the area is not dense, so noise didn’t arise as an issue of contention. In the future, as the area continues to develop, noise could become an issue and that is why Vacar has hired a dedicated Noise Officer. But for the purposes of getting the current work done at IAH, noise was a non-issue.
How Bush executives and their consultants dealt with the remaining issues —- air quality and wetlands mitigation —- is the crux of what is considered a success story at the airport.
AIR QUALITY IMPROVEMENT
— Part of the Upgrade
Terminal A part of $11 million upgrade at IAH
The new Terminal A North Food Court at George Bush
Intercontinental Airport will open with a blend of national brands
and regional partnerships, part of concessionaire CA One Services
$11 million investment in the airport’s food and beverage areas.
National brands in the Terminal A North Food Court include: McDonald’s, The Coffee Beanery, Pizzeria Uno Express, and Smoothie King. Regional partnerships consist of those with El Paseo Café, The Grove, and Suki Hana Japan.
CA One Services has a ten-year contract to manage existing and new food and beverage facilities at Bush Intercontinental. The on-going $11 million construction project, initiated in 1999, will incorporate the upgrading or building of more than 40 food and beverage operations.
CA One Services is a subsidiary of Delaware North Companies and is headquartered in Buffalo, NY.
Environmental regulations in Texas are
the concern of the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission, or
TNRCC. The agency is the arbiter of what can and cannot be done regarding
the environment. During the recent presidential campaign, TNRCC was under
tremendous pressure to take steps towards doing something about air quality
because the agency’s boss, then-Texas Governor George W. Bush, was
getting hammered by his presidential opponent, Al Gore, on environmental
The TNRCC has established an objective of reducing NOX (nitrous oxide) emissions from airline ground service equipment by 90 percent. The airlines, particularly the three Texas-based airlines (Continental, American, Southwest) said it was not technically feasible to reduce them by more than 75 percent. Neither side was willing to budge. It came to a head with the Air Transport Association (ATA) suing the TNRCC over the issue at DFW.
Kent McLemore, assistant director for planning with HAS and the one most intimately involved with dealing with environmental issues, explains that TNRCC reports directly to the governor, who would issue the air quality certification that the airport needed to get FAA approval.
"Until the governor issued the certification on air quality," McLemore says, "we could not receive our record of decision (ROD). Finally, our director stepped in. The difference between 75 percent and 90 percent (reduction) is about 1.8 tons per day of NOX emissions. Our director said we (airport) would make up the difference somehow. That broke the logjam and got the process moving. We were just trying to make a good business decision and prove that you can do good business and be green at the same time
"It came down to a final meeting at which the FAA, the airlines, the airport, and the TNRCC were present.... They (TNRCC) thought about it and decided their goal was to reduce NOX emissions by 90 percent and if we reduce them by some other method than GSE equipment, that was the goal."
How the airport gets its 15 percent reduction is still in process but among contributors will be the consolidation of the car rental facility, which will reduce bus movements by an estimated 100 trips per day. There are plans to consolidate employee parking, and the airport is investigating fuel cell technology that will facilitate the use of electric vehicles.
Additionally, Vacar is going to push for city regulations that require that airport vendors will have to contribute to emission reduction. "We won’t do it overnight," Vacar says, "we’ll give notice. For example, hotel shuttles; these bus operators, when we do an RFP here shortly for super shuttle-type service, we’re going to be looking in those proposals for ’What are you going to be doing for me on air quality?’ If we do it with taxi cabs, if we do it with these shuttle buses, we’ll have the whole city benefit as well as the airport."
Marketing Lessons Learned
Airport officials embark on exporting their trade while promoting their own airport and city in the global marketplace
HOUSTON — The Houston City Council recently
gave its approval for Houston Airport System’s Airport Development
Corporation to get into the aviation consulting business.
According to Hoyt Brown, deputy director for marketing at HAS, Houston would become an operating advisory consultant should the Toronto Airport Development Consor-tium win the bid to enhance operations at the existing Quito, Ecuador, airport and the development of a proposed new airport in the Central American city.
"We would be a party to Toronto ADC’s operation...." Brown says. "We think that is a far-reaching kind of business development, not only for promoting international trade for the fourth largest city (Houston) in the U.S., which has global ties from energy to space to other aspects of our trade, but we think it’s a good marketing tool for the airport system and our efforts to continue to develop air service both in quality and quantity to points of the world."
Houston currently has a related activity in place. It conducts an African airports training program and is about to start one for Latin America. Participants travel to Houston for two- or three-day sessions covering all manner of subjects pertaining to the operation of an airport.
"The training is designed to cover traditional aspects of airport operations,’’ Brown says. "We get into some of our planning and design and construction basics. We also show them how we do concessions, how we do rentals, how we do taxis, how we do air fire rescue; the things we take for granted. We talk about our marketing, our air service development. This is very intriguing, very fresh, and very good stuff for many areas of the world."
According to McLemore, wetlands mitigation
is a structured process: If you’re building project impacts wetlands,
you have to create or mitigate those wetlands at equal or greater value
at a different location or through some other method such as wetland credits.
"For every acre impacted at Bush," McLemore explains, "we
would have been required to do three to seven acres somewhere else."
(A subsequent Supreme Court ruling changed how wetlands are delineated.
That ruling would have meant that HAS could have created far less wetlands,
but officials, for financial and environmental/political reasons, decided
to create the original, greater amount of wetlands.)
Fortunately, HAS already owned the "somewhere else." In 1986, Houston aviation officials purchased a 1,432-acre tract of land some 35 miles west of the city and in adjoining Waller County for the purpose of building a GA reliever airport. However, a series of environmental and political concerns nixed the plans.
It was a natural choice for wetlands mitigation for Bush and the airport proposed it and the Corps of Engineers approved it.
The tract of land sits in what is known as the Katy Prairie, an area long sought for preservation by such environmental groups as the Audubon Society, the Sierra Club, and the Katy Prairie Conservancy. Those and other such organizations — possible opponents to any development of the land — were delighted at the prospect of the creation of wetlands on the Prairie and immediately got behind the project.
"When we said we would mitigate on that land," McLemore says, "that made the environmentalists very happy and they worked hard with us. That alone saved us months in potential litigation and negotiation with the environmental community. They basically said, ’If you’ll give us this, we will not oppose your expansion at Bush.’
"To show the breadth of the environmentalists’ support, the people in Waller County opposed the FAA’s (record of decision) and we asked a court to come in as an intervener. In something that surprised the FAA and the court, the environmental community filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief on our behalf and the FAA’s behalf. So if I had to say what the lynchpin of the whole EIS process was, that mitigation process would be it."
Because it wants to eventually build its own airport on the tract, Waller County has since filed suit against the record of decision, saying it was done in an arbitrary and capricious manner. It is also contemplating condemnation proceedings on the land. McLemore is confident that the HAS plan to start creating the wetlands, beginning in January of next year, won’t be blocked. However, if it should be, it would cause added cost and headache, but it wouldn’t stop the work at Bush. Another mitigation plan would have to be devised but construction will go on apace.
To give perspective to the scale of work being done at Bush, there are four concrete batch plants in operation around the clock, 36 different major projects, and at any given time 180 different construction companies at work on the 9,500-acre property. As Vacar points out, it isn’t possible to do everything concurrently, but much of it is being done that way successfully.
"When I put the scope of work together," says Willkie, who was the airport’s project manager, "it was clear that schedule was the most important thing. Whenever that’s true, you tend to do a lot of tasks concurrently rather than sequentially. In most cases, that works well.
"What you occasionally find is that
in the course of doing one task you sometimes uncover something that changes
how you would have done another task. There is the occasional inefficiency
from not doing it sequentially, but we made some contingency plans for
that and, in general, they worked. So we were able to compress the schedule
about as much as you can.
"The fact that there was no outcry of opposition meant that we didn’t have to redo a great deal of stuff following the publication of the draft document. That’s where things can really change on you."
Doing that many construction projects in a fully operational major airport is, of course, a significant challenge. In 2000, Intercontinental accommodated 463,000 aircraft operations, 35 million passengers, and 600 million pounds of air freight.
Passenger traffic is increasing at an estimated one million passengers every six months.
"What we’ve done,’’ Vacar says, "is we’ve hired a lot of consulting firms, project managers, and construction managers, and we’ve taken these projects and grouped them in ways that make a lot of sense. We’ve let the construction manager folks work with our staff as an extension of our staff to carry out the program."
Although there are literally dozens of people involved in the process of coordinating such a gargantuan effort, on the airport side in the forefront at Bush are airport manager Thomas Bartlett and deputy director for planning design and construction Eric Potts.
"It goes back to a lot of communication and coordination," Bartlett says. "I have staff members on the airport that attend all construction meetings. Each project has weekly meetings. Those meetings are twofold. One, on Eric’s side, he has representatives there making sure they’re constructing and building it the way they should — on time, on budget. At the same time I have a representative there highlighting the operational needs and necessities, telling them what times they can do such and such to keep the airport operational.
"I have a person that is dedicated from airport operations specifically to be out and about on the airport, working close, hand in hand, with the contractors to make sure things are done the way they should be. Our primary interest is safety."
Potts says tenant concerns, particularly those of the principal tenant, are always taken into account. "We meet with my counterpart from Continental once a week," he says. "We go over the coordination of their piece of the work and our piece of the work. We try to take tenant concerns and try to make sure we have those inside our construction plans and programs. They get to review the documents and they attend our program meetings."
Potts adds that his management team also has monthly meetings with outside agencies such as city and county public works to "coordinate the access and egress into the facilities."
A Multi-Billion Dollar Undertaking
The Houston Airport System currently has a tri-partite airport development program underway. In addition to major construction and renovation work at Bush Intercontinental, work is also taking place at it’s two other airports, Hobby and Ellington. The $3.6 billion project is
GEORGE BUSH INTERCONTINENTAL AIRPORT (IAH)
• New 8,500-foot runway
• Upgrade of current 6,000-foot GA runway to 12,000-foot departure runway and adjoining taxiways
• New 600,000-square-foot air cargo facility
• South taxiway bridge and apron expansion
• New consolidated rental car facility
• New midfield taxiway
• Renovations and enhancements to four terminals
• New 15-20 gate international terminal
• New and expanded parking garages and lots
WILLIAM P. HOBBY AIRPORT (HOU)
• Upgrade of Runway 4 ILS to provide Category II-III approaches
• New central concourse
• Renovation of Concourse A
• Relocation of two taxiways
ELLINGTON FIELD (EFD)
• Fourp new general aviation hangars
• New and improved parking ramps
• Upgrade of ILS on one runway to accommodate Category IIIB approaches