Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) is nearly halfway through an ambitious three-year project to bring all four runways at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) into compliance with FAA runway safety area requirements.
As the fifth busiest airport in the world and second busiest in the United States, LAX simply could not afford to shut down or affect more than one runway at once; so planners carefully sequenced the project to mitigate impact on airfield operations, explains Mark Vicelja, P.E., senior airports engineer at LAWA.
Construction on the four-runway project began this spring and is scheduled to run into summer 2017. The total budget for LAX's multi-faceted initiative is $250 million.
Primary Project: Runway Safety Area Improvements
Associated Projects: Pavement repair; joint sealing; runway shoulder rehabilitation; upgrades to airfield lighting & navigational aids
Location: Los Angeles Int'l Airport
Airport Oversight & Operations: Los Angeles World Airports
Runways Affected: 4
Total Budget: $250 million
New runway safety areas will provide an extra margin of safety for landing and departing aircraft alike, LAWA officials explain. Specifically, they are designed to provide a buffer zone should an aircraft overshoot, overrun or veer off a runway. At LAX, like many other airports, the safety areas are 1,000 feet by 500 feet at each runway end and 250 feet from the runway centerline.
LAX's ongoing project will add runway safety areas on all four of its east/west parallel runways: 6R-24L and 6L-24R on the north airfield, and 7L-25R and 7R-25L on the south airfield. Beyond making the required safety improvements, the airport is also performing other discretionary airfield work. Crews will repair pavement, reseal joints, rehabilitate runway shoulders and replace airfield lighting and navigational aids.
"We're taking full advantage of the closure to try to perform upgrades and repairs to mitigate future closures for maintenance work," Vicelja remarks.
The airport finished the first phase of its four-part project earlier this year. New safety areas for Runway 7R-25L were created during a 33-day closure, from March to April 2015. LAX took advantage of the closure to perform temporary pavement rehabilitation as well.
According to Vicelja, work on 7R-25L could have easily required a three-month closure, but LAX consolidated it into just more than a month with careful planning. The airport even completed some preemptive work. Crews relocated FAA equipment associated with the 7L-25R project, which is scheduled to begin next fall, because it will eventually affect Runway 7R-25L. "We added scope from one runway to another to mitigate having to do a future closure on 7R-25L," he explains.
After LAWA completed the 7R-25L project in April, it jumped right into safety area improvements for 6L-24R, LAX's northernmost runway. Operations on the runway were shut down on June 29 and are scheduled to resume in mid-October. "October 19th is the published opening date, and we're working diligently to meet that schedule, if not beat it," Vicelja reports.
To meet runway safety area requirements for 6L-24R, the airport will cover portions of the Argo Ditch, a stormwater open channel that drains the north airfield. Extra infrastructure was needed because a portion of the channel lies within the runway safety area limits, explains Shammi Ratti, P.E., vice president of Aviation with AECOM (formerly URS). New components include a 542-foot extension of the existing concrete box culvert system using three 8-foot by-10-foot reinforced concrete box culverts connected to a newly constructed headwall outside the new runway safety area.
Two roadways are also being relocated during phase two. Part of a service road on the east side of 6L-24R will be moved outside the runway's new safety area; and a maintenance road located between the north runways will be relocated outside the 6R-24L safety area that will be built during phase three.
At the same time, LAX is reconstructing about 7,000 feet of 40-year-old concrete pavement on Runway 6L-24R, including new infrastructure for light emitting diode (LED) centerline, touchdown zone and hold bar lights.
Robert Scariano, western region sales manager for Eaton's Crouse-Hinds airport lighting division, notes that the airport's new PRO APF lights use up to 53% less power than other LED lights. Their modular design will also help lower overall costs by simplifying maintenance for airfield technicians, he adds.
With such an ambitious scope and condensed timetable, Vicelja says that a detailed plan and focused schedule were critical to minimize impact at the busy airport. Despite careful planning, LAWA officials acknowledge that the required runway work could cause flight delays similar to those experienced during bad weather.
The first phase, which included the full closure of Runway 7R-25L, required close coordination between airfield operations, FAA, the airlines and the project contractors, recalls Vicelja. Making sure everyone is updated at least daily is also paramount to safety and success, he adds. "We want to get the work done and fast, but we need to make sure it's safe," he comments.
He describes the coordination meetings LAX held from the conceptual design phase through the development of final documents as "intimate and detailed" - and necessary to keep the runway safety area initiative on task.
Scheduling the first phase of the project during spring was also important. "From an operational standpoint, we'd prefer not to do a runway closure during the peak summer travel season," says Vicelja.
The subsequent 6L-24R project had to occur in the summertime, because one of its main components involved a large channel on the north side. "You couldn't operate in a storm drain channel during the rainy season, so we had to start in the summertime where the likelihood of rain would affect us the least," he explains.
In another attempt to minimize impact on aircraft operations, planners designated special airfield entrances for contractors use. "Each project has a different location they are bringing in the contractor to access the site to mitigate the possibility of having to cut across and intermingle with active traffic patterns or across taxiways," Vicelja relates. "We're very diligent about making sure to dictate the routes; and we worked with the FAA, our airfield operations crew, TSA and airport police to figure out what is the best way to allow ingress and egress out of our site."
Phase Three & Beyond
Remaining on the north side of the airfield, LAX expects to begin work on a new safety area for Runway 6R-24L in mid-November. Airport officials plan to keep the runway partially operational during the entire 10-month construction schedule - more available for departures than arrivals. "It's our primary departure runway and will remain the primary departure runway for the north side," Vicelja explains. From an operational standpoint, phase two is expected to have less of an impact on overall operations than phase one, because it won't include a full closure, as with 7R-25L. "We'll still have four runways," he notes.
Crews will begin working on the east end of Runway 6R-24 for approximately six months, and then follow up with the west end for another four months. Work is expected to be finished in October 2016.
Immediately after phase three ends, LAX will switch back to the south side of the field for the project's final phase, construction on Runway 7L-25R. Beyond adding a new runway safety area, work will include taxiway intersection improvements, lighting upgrades and a full pavement reconstruction of the eastern portions of Taxiway B. Construction is scheduled to span October 2016 to June 2017.
Vicelja explains that LAX will meet the FAA deadline for runway safety area improvements on 7L-25R by temporarily shortening the runway with the use of declared distances, until it can be extended 832 feet in 2017. Plans are to shorten the runway for a little more than three months while crews improve and rehabilitate its east end, and then close the runway for approximately four months to facilitate construction on the west end, where the runway will be extended.
During the full closure, crews will relocate FAA navigation equipment and reconstruct approximately 6,000 feet of concrete pavement, including a segment over the Sepulveda Tunnel, which allows public vehicle traffic to pass under runways 7L-25R and 7R-25L.