Long Beach Airport Reconstructs Busiest Runway

Long Beach Airport Reconstructs Busiest Runway
Mike Schwanz
Published in: 

Closing the most-used runway at one of the busiest airports in southern California requires a great deal of advance planning, teamwork and coordination. That was the challenge facing Jess Romo, airport director at Long Beach Airport (LGB), for the first nine months of 2018.

During that period, Runway 8R-26L was closed for a much-needed reconstruction. At 3,918 feet, it’s the airport’s shortest runway, yet it handles more than 220,000 operations per year. It is used primarily for general aviation, charter flights, corporate jets, flight schools, law enforcement and rescue operations.

“Besides serving as a commercial travel hub, our airport is a powerful economic engine that stimulates and supports both local and regional industries,” Romo explains. “A great deal of coordination was needed to redirect and continue operations while construction moved forward.”


Project: Runway Reconstruction

Location: Long Beach (CA) Airport

2017 Operations: 260,000

Commercial Passengers: 3.8 million

Runway Rebuilt: 8R-26L

Dimensions: 3,918 ft. long; width reduced from 150 to 100 ft.

Cost: $19.1 million

Funding: $15.3 million FAA; $3.8 million airport

Project Timeline: 9 months

Engineering Consultant: HNTB

Construction Manager: Jacobs Engineering

General Contractor: All American Asphalt

Airfield Lighting: ADB Safegate

Signs: Lumacurve Signs

Related Project: Re-designating runway name to reflect slight shift in earth’s magnetic field 

During construction, all flights were diverted to LGB’s other two runways: 8L-26R and 12-30. Runway 8L-26R is the airport’s 6,192-foot east/west option; Runway 12-30, which runs northwest/southeast, provides 10,000 feet and is primarily used by commercial airliners and cargo jets.    

Pre-Construction Prep

Planning for the project began before Romo was hired at LGB. “I started here in September 2016, but much of the groundwork had been done several years before,” he says.

In 2011, the airport hired engineering consultant HNTB to identify reasonable and practical measures for improving airfield safety and reducing runway incursions. The firm’s airfield geometry study yielded several recommendations that were adopted by the Long Beach City Council in 2014. 

Officials then asked HNTB to conduct advanced planning on near-term safety improvements and prepare an airport layout plan that would receive FAA approval. The first major project in the plan was reconstructing Runway 8R-26L, in accordance with the recommendations from the prior planning studies.

Tony Fermelia, HNTB’s design project manager, explains the background circumstances: “There were numerous runway incursions at LGB. At the time, LGB had five runways. It had a large general aviation population and several flight schools with training ongoing constantly at the airport, and there were several near misses. Some of this was because of the geometric layout of the airfield.  As the complexity of an airfield increases, the potential for pilots to lose situational awareness of their location on the airfield increases. By keeping the airfield geometry simple and meeting FAA design standards, pilots will be less likely to execute aircraft movements that can lead to a hazardous situation. 

“It was apparent to us that the airport didn’t need five runways,” he continues. “That made things difficult for the airport to maintain, the tower to control and the pilots to determine their location on the field. In addition, the main commercial runway (12-30) intersected Runway 26L-8R at an acute angle, which was dangerous. Therefore, we suggested shortening the runway to eliminate its crossing with air-carrier Runway 12-30, so there was no crossing or intersection of that main runway.”

Fermelia and his staff gave airport officials several options to consider, but repairing the pavement of 8R-26L was prioritized. “It had deteriorated over time, and was well past its expected lifetime,” he explains.

Several other additional enhancements also were recommended. For example, Runway 8R-26L was designed to Airplane Design Group (ADG) II runway standards, which require a minimum width of 75 feet.  However, in an effort to improve safety and to visually distinguish it from adjacent 75-foot wide taxiways F and J, the HNTB team recommended increasing the width to 100 feet.   

“I was pleased that the airport officials accepted our suggestion to add compliant run-up areas, sort of like a cul-de-sac,” Fermelia notes. “This area allows up to six general aviation aircraft at a time to warm up their engines. This is especially valuable at LGB, since there are so many students taking flying lessons.”

The new run-up area is about 50 yards by 25 yards—roughly half the size of a standard football field. 

A few challenges cropped up during construction. “We had to avoid existing oil transition lines,” recalls Fermelia. “And there was a lot of clay that was encountered in the subgrade, which needed to be chemically treated to stabilize the material; it was like pudding. We had to treat subgrade material with a lime slurry.  We also tried to improve and simplify the airfield lighting circuits and electrical pullboxes. As is the case in many airports, existing circuit routing and mapping had not been updated, and the maintenance staff didn’t have a good understanding of the existing conditions and which wires went where.”

Fermelia is especially proud that his team’s early planning and initial cost estimating effort were right on the mark. “I am very pleased that this whole project was delivered on time and on budget,” he comments. 

Funding Sails Through 

Securing FAA funds for the recommended improvements was an uncharacteristically smooth process, says Romo. “The HNTB team did an excellent job of helping us prepare our proposal and spelling out exactly what had to be done,” he explains. “That made a big difference.”

In August 2017, the FAA awarded LGB a $15.3 million grant that covered about 90% of the project’s eligible total cost. The airport paid for the remaining share, approximately $3.8 million. 

Major improvements included:

  • Reconstructed pavement
  • Draining systems
  • Signage
  • Pavement markings
  • Runway guard lights
  • Reducing runway width from 150 feet to 100 feet
  • Installing a new taxiway connector
  • Connecting new run-up areas, where pilots can safely warm up small aircraft engines
  • Constructing blast pads to prevent spreading debris from aircraft taking off and landing
  • Grading infield areas
  • Replacing existing lighting with LED lighting

In addition to the improvements above, the reconstructed runway had to be re-designated. For decades, it was designated 7R-25L, but the FAA required LGB to change it to 8R-26L due to natural shifts in the earth’s magnetic field. “An airport runway designation is not subjective, but rather tied to its orientation to a magnetic north compass heading,” Romo explains. “This is a key element for pilot awareness and safety.”

Naturally, the “sister” parallel runway was renamed for the same reason. It is now designated 8L-26R.

Decreasing the width of Runway 8R-26L from 150 feet to 100 feet was key to making many of the other improvements. “I think one of the best changes we made was narrowing the runway,” reflects Romo. “The standard at most airfields for short runways is only 75 feet wide. We used that space to improve the shoulder areas.”

 No changes were made to the width of 12-30, LGB’s longest runway. It remains at 10,000 feet long and 200 feet wide.

Once funding was confirmed and the project was green-lighted, Romo and his staff had to prepare airport users for some unavoidable inconveniences. “We have a robust GA community, and 8R-26L is at the south side of the airport, where all the FBOs are located. Pilots liked the smallest runway, because it required the least amount of taxiing. When we asked them to use the two longer runways on the north side of the field, we did get some pushback because it would take them longer to taxi. 

“We had to do a lot of communicating and messaging with all of our clients,” he continues. “Fortunately, most of the pilots knew the old runway was past its expiration date, and went along with our plan.”

Positive Outcome

The famously good weather in Long Beach helped the airport project run smoothly. “We were fortunate that during the nine-month construction process, there were very few delays. There were no weather issues, and all the stages of construction went according to plan,” Romo remarks. 

With the project complete, reviews from customers have been good. “In the few months since we reopened 8R-26L, I have received positive feedback from our pilots and the FBOs,” he reports. “The changes we made definitely made the airport safer and more user-friendly.” 


ACC: Rethinking Airport Resiliency in the Aftermath of COVID-19

Rethinking Airport Resiliency in the Aftermath of COVID-19

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, airports and their stakeholders are managing disruption unlike any previously experienced in the modern world. With an unprecedented decrease in aircraft and passenger traffic, growing economic stress, and further uncertainty ahead, airports require resilient financial and operational planning to ride out COVID-19 and to plan for the post-pandemic future.

Survival for airports requires re-prioritizing previously identified plans, exploring new ways to operate and fund airport operations, and learning from past experiences to improve an airport’s ability to succeed in the future. This guidance provides direction for airport operators and consultants, including planners and emergency management staff, on how airports can enhance resilience to weather the COVID-19 pandemic and prepare for future disruptions ahead.


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