Long Beach Airport Modifies Layout to Improve Airfield Safety

Jodi Richards
Published in: 

With a notoriously vexing airfield configuration, Long Beach Airport (LGB) in southern California is leading the charge for an FAA initiative to reduce runway incursions throughout the United States. 

The Runway Incursion Mitigation (RIM) Program, announced in June 2015, is designed to identify risk factors that could contribute to runway incursions and develop strategies to help mitigate those risks. Given its history of challenges with such issues, LGB is ahead of the game in terms of identifying its particular risks, developing an action plan to address them and implementing solutions to improve safety for users and airfield partners. 

"This is moving us closer to having a safer environment for the airport community," says Airport Director Jess Romo, A.A.E.

Project: Improving Airfield Safety
Location: Long Beach (CA) Airport
Project Consultants: HNTB Corp.; Jacobsen Daniels; Kimley-Horn
Runway Guard Lights: ADB Safegate
Directional & Airfield Signs: Lumacurve
Strategy: Simplify airfield configuration by decommissioning 2 north/south runways (already complete); reconstructing & redesigning east/west runways; converting former north/south runways into taxiways (in process) 
Associated Efforts: Improving airfield marking, lighting & signage; education campaign for pilots, tenants & air traffic controllers

LGB gained the kind of notoriety no airport wants in a 2002 FAA study of runway incursions. "We were identified, unfortunately, as being fifth in the nation, with 25 recorded runway incursions during that time [1997 to 2000]," recalls Fred Peña, facilities and maintenance manager at LGB. 

In 2007, another FAA report drew attention to the complexity of LGB's airfield-a leading cause of runway incursions and vehicle/pedestrian deviations. "It was a fairly large safety issue," Peña acknowledges. 

As a result, the city council authorized LGB to apply for Airport Improvement Program funds in 2011. The grant money secured later that year was used to conduct an airfield geometry study and airport strategic plan study. Together, the projects were designed to evaluate the existing airfield geometry; provide alternatives for safety, operational and financial benefits; and reduce risk at LGB. 

At the time, LGB had five active runways: two east/west parallels (7L-25R and 7R-25L); a primary diagonal northwest/southeast (12-30); and two north/south parallels (16L-34R and 16R-34L). From a bird's-eye view, the airfield configuration resembles a tic-tac-toe board. The parallel lines that form the board are runways, but they are also bisected by a diagonal from the top left corner to the lower right corner, explains Peña. Along with the associated taxiways, "it created quite a complex airport," he remarks.

Simplifying the Design
LGB officials initiated an airfield geometry study to identify elements it could correct, explains Peña. HNTB Corp. responded to the airport's request for proposals regarding the project and was ultimately selected to lead the effort. In December 2011, Long Beach City Council authorized $1.1 million in planning and engineering services by HNTB. 

Peña explains that LGB's complex airfield layout is largely due to the age of the airport, established in 1923.  

"It wasn't an issue of people constructing this airfield in contravention of rules," agrees Project Manager David Rickerson, who began the study with HNTB and finished it as senior director at Kimley-Horn. It was simply that standards and the complexity of aircraft using the facility changed dramatically over time, he explains.

The 16-34 runways were the oldest and narrowest, at only 75 feet wide. "They really matched with the vintage of the aircraft that were flying back in the World War II era," Romo notes. As aircraft changed and grew larger, LGB's newer runways reflect that evolution-12-30 is more than 10,000 feet long and 200 feet wide.

Examples of confusing geometry at LGB include two locations where three runways intersect, with multiple taxiways also coming together in the same locations. These locations encompassed four of the airport's seven hotspots and accounted for the most of its recorded surface incidents and incursions over a 12-year period. Specific inconsistencies with FAA geometric criteria at these locations included wide expanses of pavement, more than three node intersections and other situational awareness factors.

Additional geometric criteria-related issues requiring consideration included dual use of Runway 7L-25R, 16L-34R and 16R-34L pavements for taxiing, runway/taxiway intersection configuration, aircraft crossings in the high-energy portion of runways and direct access from aircraft ramps onto runways.

Peña explains that the geometry study took an in-depth look at the layout of the runways and taxiways, while also incorporating the latest FAA standards in terms of taxiway and runway crossings, paint, signage and markings. "There were quite a few pieces to the study, but in the end, it was to make the airport safer by adjusting some of the configurations of the taxiways and runways," he says.

Employing geometry criteria set forth in Advisory Circular 150/5300-13A and industry best practices, the team began the study with a close look at the runway and taxiway system and the identified "hotspots," adds Rickerson. Four hotspots involved the intersection of three runways and multiple taxiways, while one was not a specific location, but rather an "overall discussion of the complexity of the runway/taxiway system at Long Beach," he explains.

Using incident databases, including the self-reporting Aviation Safety Reporting System database, the team mapped 12 years of incursions and incidents to identify trends and contributing factors regarding the events. "That was what we used to begin the process of focusing in on what the contributing factors were and how the geometry of the airfield contributed to that," he relates. 

Risk Assessment
Along with very detailed analysis, consultants also performed a more informal safety risk assessment. During that phase, team members looked at the entire airfield on an intersection-by-intersection basis and cataloged the number of different operations that could occur, Rickerson explains. Using the history of incidents, they further classified the severity and likelihood of various scenarios and used a safety risk matrix system to prioritize the areas on the airfield that needed immediate attention.

"It wasn't that any area on the airfield did not need to be addressed," says Rickerson, "but we wanted to focus on areas that had the highest likelihood and the greatest potential for severity of incident." The safety risk process was key in instituting a risk-based decision process for mitigating issues, assessing the alternatives that were developed and prioritizing the sequence of mitigation efforts to address those areas having the highest potential for incidents and incursions first, he adds.  

Knowing that FAA funding is limited, the risk-based approach to prioritizing projects will allow LGB to get the most out of its investment-both safety- and dollar-wise, explains Justin Bychek, senior aviation planner with HNTB. "By using

Improvements Underway Coast to Coast
On the heels of its recently completed runway safety area improvement program, FAA plans to further reduce runway incursions by working with airports on risk-based decision-making. 

Specific risk factors that contribute to runway incursions run the gamut from unclear taxiway markings or airport signage to more complex issues such as runway or taxiway layout, note FAA personnel. Risk-based decision-making builds on safety management principles by using a consistent approach to proactively address emerging safety risks. 

The FAA has collected and reviewed data to identify specific areas of airports with risk factors that could contribute to a runway incursion and has developed a preliminary inventory of locations where runway incursions have occurred. Further, it plans to work with airport sponsors to develop strategies to mitigate runway incursions at these locations. 

Eight airports will receive a combined $11 million in Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funds in fiscal year 2017 to begin mitigation efforts via FAA's Runway Incursion Mitigation Program. According to the Administration, airport sponsors can use AIP funds to study alternatives for reducing runway incursions or to fund projects that will address unclear taxiway markings, lighting/signage or taxiway layout concerns to mitigate the risk of runway incursions.

Four of the eight airports scheduled to receive funding have already identified specifics projects:
• Waco Regional in Texas will receive $6.4 million to realign a taxiway.
• Chicago's Midway International Airport will use a $600,000 grant for installing runway guard lights at a runway/taxiway intersection.
• A grant for $16,000 will be awarded to Philadelphia International Airport to design taxiway modifications.
• Cleveland International Airport will receive $2.3 million to reconfigure several taxiways to eliminate the risk of incursions.

Four other airports will receive funding for Runway Incursion Mitigation Program studies. The amounts vary based on airport size and the complexity of their risk factors.
• Addison Airport, near Dallas, is set to receive about $43,600.
• Lone Star Executive Airport, also in Texas, will receive close to $19,700.
• San Jose International Airport in California, is scheduled to receive nearly $1.5 million.
• Scholes International Airport in Galveston, TX, is slated for roughly $11,700.

this safety risk assessment, we were able to prioritize and convey what positive safety impact we would have for each alternative, and compare that to delay, capacity and travel time analytics that you'd typically look at for a capacity project," he says. "Not only does it improve safety, but it modernizes the airfield, prioritizes reconstruction based on most pressing need and maintains the operational efficiency of the airfield."

It was important to preserve the airport's overall efficiency, Bychek adds. "We took a holistic approach to make sure that any improvements we were recommending would not have a detrimental impact to the airport's capacity," he says. "We're looking at not only today's activity level, but making sure we're not compromising that in the future."

Developing a Plan
Following the study, consultants presented five possible options to the airport. With approval from Long Beach City Council, LGB officials elected to improve the airfield configuration through a plan that would close two of the airport's parallel runways, shorten one of its secondary runways and realign select taxiways. 

Final FAA approval of LGB's updated Airport Layout Plan (with new airfield improvement recommendations) was expected by the end of 2016. 

To immediately enhance airfield safety, LGB formally decommissioned its north/south 16-34 runways in spring 2016. Although planners evaluated options to keep the runways open, they ultimately recommended closing them, because the 16-34 runways were major contributors to the overall complex airfield geometry and the specific incidents and incursions that were occurring, explains Rickerson. 

Removing the two runways from the equation reduces runway intersections from seven to just one, Bychek adds. 

Since closing the two north/south runways, LGB has seen a definite improvement in airfield safety, Peña reports. Specifically, there is less pilot and vehicle driver confusion, and air traffic controllers are finding it easier to manage operations. 

"When the runways were still there, they [FAA controllers] had to issue both a 'hold short' and then a 'crossing clearance' for each of those intersections," he explains. "Now they don't have to deal 
with that."

Closing the runways has not restricted operations, emphasizes Peña. The north/south runways were not as active as LGB's' other options because prevailing winds at the airport favor the east/west runways and diagonal runways more than 95% of the time, he explains. Additionally, the north/south runways were out of service before the decommissioning due to poor pavement conditions. While airport users rarely like to see runways shut down, Peña reports that most operators at LGB understood and accepted the airport's efforts to create a safer operating environment. 

Fewer movement areas will also allow LGB to better leverage its funds-whether federal or otherwise-to get more "bang for our buck" regarding infrastructure projects, Romo notes. From an ongoing cost perspective, the airport now has two less runways to maintain and light, adds Peña.

With the benefits of initial changes accruing, LGB officials are looking ahead to their next significant projects: reconstructing Runway 7R-25L and redesigning runways 7R-25L and 7L-25R to 8R-26L and 8L-26R. Work on that phase is

slated to begin in 2017, at a cost of approximately $14 million. Additionally, the two former north/south runways will be converted into compliant taxiways to better conform with current FAA design standards, Peña adds.

The airfield geometry study and subsequent recommendations for airfield modifications were performed in close concert with all the airport's stakeholders, Peña notes. Airport staff and HNTB made it a priority to communicate with FAA, air traffic control, airfield users, tenants, flight schools and pilot/aviation organizations-both local and national. Extensive public outreach, including stakeholder and technical working group meetings with various tenants and airport users, were mainstays, he explains.   

"It was a really inclusive process that allowed everyone to participate in investigation and alternatives and ultimately in recommendations," Bychek relates.

Even during the research phase, briefings were held to discuss what the study would explore, and meetings were convened to gather feedback from tenants and airport users about their experiences and concerns 

According to Rickerson, the value of stakeholder involvement and transparency of the entire process cannot be understated. "You're going into issues that are going to be inherently controversial," he explains, noting that it is critical to involve diverse airport interests and provide details, documentation and the rationale behind decisions. 

Bychek says that it was important to ensure that no tenant or stakeholder was "left behind"-by the end results of the airport layout plan or the process that led to them. Removing two of LGB's five runways caused some initial concern about operations in certain weather/wind conditions, he acknowledges. "We went through a robust technical analysis with those stakeholders to show that, actually, [the airport] will be more than capable of operating...in fact, [the changes] will not only enhance safety, but reduce taxi times and reduce delay times as well."

While some stakeholders might disagree with individual changes, as a whole the group accepted the overall plan because it was a thorough process, Bychek reports. 

"It is a partnership, and everybody feels they had a stake in the final outcome," adds Peña.

Comprehensive Strategy
Beyond airfield geometry, the study took a holistic look at the airfield, notes Bychek. Other key elements were pilot education, pavement markings and signage/lighting. 

Improving airfield geometry isn't the only way to bump up airfield safety-that's a misconception, he emphasizes. As such, Bychek encourages airports to address "low-hanging fruit" such as lighting, communication with air traffic control, etc. in addition to focusing on runway/taxiway configuration. "When you put all those pieces together, that's going to be the best result in increasing safety on the airfield. Don't just look at it in a vacuum," he advises.  

As part of LGB's ongoing efforts to improve airfield safety, the airport added directional signs and markings and installed runway guard lights-both above ground and in-pavement. Education is also a continuous effort for airport users, Peña notes, with regular meetings and open communication with tenants and airport users.

"Any time you [make airfield changes], it really is incumbent upon the airport along with the FAA to do a lot of outreach," notes Romo. "They need to be made aware of what's happening and why it's happening."

As LGB's efforts to improve airfield safety continue to take shape, airport officials are realizing an unexpected benefit: The land previously occupied by runway protection zones and object-free areas for the decommissioned runways will eventually be available for other uses. According to Romo, the search for ways to develop select parcels for revenue-generating purposes is already underway. 


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