Super Bowl Accelerates & Expands Runway Improvementsat New Orleans Lakefront

Jennifer Bradley
Published in: 














Long before football fans knew it would be the Ravens and 49ers facing off at Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans, the FAA and New Orleans Lakefront Airport (NEW) began preparing for the increased air traffic the big game would bring. In early 2012, the FAA sent its Super Bowl team to scout the airport that would support general aviation traffic for the February 2013 event. 


Project: Runway Pavement & Safety Marking Improvements

Location: New Orleans Lakefront Airport

Cost: $868,565

Funding: 2 FAA grants

Airport Owner: Orleans Levee District

Airport's Managing Sponsor: Non-Flood
Protection Asset Mgt. Authority

Engineers: URS Corp.; Design Engineering

General Contractor: Hi-Lite Markings

Length of Primary Runway: 6,880 ft.

Rubber Removed: 300,000 sq. ft.

Sealant & Pavement Conditioner: RejuvaSeal

Amount Applied: 115,000 sq. yds.

Aug. Annual Operations: 75,000

Based Aircraft: 159

Super Bowl Traffic: 500 aircraft

The agency's dedicated Super Bowl team is charged with reviewing the most-traveled airports for football's marquee event to flag issues that could potentially cause problems, explains Andy Velayos, lead program manager for the FAA Airport Districts Office. "What came to the top immediately at Lakefront was the issue with incursions," he says.

With planning beginning in March 2012, major pavement and safety renovations were finished earlier this year, right before the pre-game excitement began to build. The entire project was completed in less than one year, and NEW served 500 additional aircraft during Super Bowl season - more than triple its population of based aircraft.

These days, the airport's deviation stats are better than ever. Since the project, there has been only one deviation at NEW, and it wasn't related to airfield markings, reports Dave Smith, NEW's airport operations manager.

The timing of the Super Bowl returning to New Orleans couldn't have been better, says Velayos, because it was an opportunity for NEW on many levels. The airport had just begun working to earn back its Part 139 certificate after voluntarily surrendering it following extensive damage from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. "If we could get them up and running at 139, it would be the safest an airport can be," he explains.

While NEW has yet to clear all of its certification hurdles, the recent runway safety improvements helped propel it toward that goal.

Third Down

Built in the 1930s, NEW was dedicated as the "Air Hub of the Americas" and the first major airport in its region. Since then, three new runways were built to service private, corporate, military and commercial aircraft; and a new FAA control tower was constructed in 1988.

Prior to the recently completed improvements, its main 6,880-foot runway was in need of repair - specifically rubber removal and sealcoating to protect its drying pavement, explains Airport Director Fred Pruitt. A basic runway/taxiway rejuvenation already in the planning stages became a much bigger undertaking when the FAA found three safety hotspots on one of NEW's taxiways during its Super Bowl inspection, Pruitt recalls. Officials were concerned that although local pilots know the airport intimately, transient pilots would be confused by the directions around the grounds.

URS Corp. and Design Engineering were drafted to help design the solution. Fixing the three hotspots, one at each end of the southern taxiway and another in its center section, was added to the scope of the original project, notes Tim Gaines, URS engineer of record.

The taxiway, which heads west to Runway 36L, used to change names at the very end, from Taxiway F to the parallel Taxiway B. "This seemed to confuse pilots severely," Pruitt acknowledges. The engineers changed the layout so that Taxiway F now reaches all the way to the end of the runway. Designers also added a non-movement line around the edge of the ramp, to make the delineation more apparent to pilots.

Velayos credits local air traffic controllers and FAA Part 139 Inspector John Dougherty as key components in the plan. The controllers, he explains, were quick to ask for improvements in the field's phraseology and faded markings. Dougherty, he adds, quickly devised a solution after he experienced the airfield situation firsthand when piloting an aircraft into the airport.

Before Dougherty's visit last May, the FAA performed a "paper study" of the incursions, analyzing the reasons for the three hotspots. In retrospect, it was essential to have all the data on paper and consider potential fixes before the FAA's visit, Velayos reflects.

Remove, Rejuvenate, Reconfigure

From a construction standpoint, rubber removal was the biggest portion of the project, says Rhonda McNeely, vice president of sales for Hi-Lite Markings. Rubber buildup causes a runway to become slippery, she explains, and fully 300,000 square feet was removed from NEW's runway.

The pavement on the runway was also crack-sealed and rehabilitated with 115,000 square yards of RejuvaSeal. Using a product that penetrates the pavement and binds it back together saves airports money, explains McNeely. "A lot of airports don't have money anymore to resurface," she says. "They can easily get eight to 10 more years out of their asphalt if they rejuvenate it."

In addition to applying a standard sealcoat to the north end of Taxiway B and repairing cracks on the parallel taxiway and terminal apron, Hi-Lite crews also removed and repainted marking throughout the airfield, especially on the runway and high-traffic taxiways. "When the paint builds up, it starts cracking," says McNeely.

It's a "huge issue" if pilots can't see the intersections, she explains; so crews enhanced taxiway centerlines and added surface painted hold short signs. The enhanced centerlines for taxiways are also a new requirement for Part 139 certification.

New markings were added to match the operations for various aircraft classifications, and reflectors were added to enhance non-usable pavement, chronicles Gaines. Some taxiway lights were also removed, and signage was relocated or renamed to match the airport diagram.

Bub McNeely, vice president of project management for Hi-Lite, says that the electrical aspect of the project grew as a sizeable number of change orders were added. Once the safety measures were added to the scope, additional signs needed wiring and reinstalling, and a major electrical job ensued, he recalls.

Much of the work on one hotspot was achieved by narrowing it from 200 feet wide to 50 feet, explains Smith. Non-usable pavement was closed with markings, and some was painted green to resemble grass, notes Velayos. While these measures were originally taken on a test basis, the pavement is now slated for removal because of the results the airport has seen in eliminating deviations at that spot.

Consulting local pilots about possible solutions for the intersection was very helpful, notes Velayos. It also helped the pilots understand and accept the changes, he adds. 

Team Effort

Coordination between the designer, contractor, airport and FAA was crucial to ensure efficiency - especially when the project turned from a mere pavement rehab to a full-blown safety initiative. "Safety is paramount to the FAA, so they get pretty involved," recalls Gaines.

An 18-person crew from Hi-Lite worked around the clock, for nine days straight at one point, to get the job done. Bub McNeely, who ran the on-site crew, characterizes the job as "very challenging." Although airport tenants were initially concerned about the duration of the project, they were pleasantly surprised in the actual time it took Hi-Lite to finish, he notes.

Tina Wilson, URS' onsite engineer during construction, commends the contractor for dealing with challenging schedules during Thanksgiving and Christmas, noting that 24-hour workdays helped reduce the runway closure. "Hi-Lite did an excellent job, completing the project in about half the (anticipated) time," adds Gaines.

Between lost fuel sales and the inability of some corporate jets to land on NEW's parallel surface, Pruitt says the 12-day runway closure "moderately" affected airport business.

Super Bowl or not, the airfield improvements would have been completed, says Gaines. The big game simply shifted the scope and timing of the projects. Importantly, he adds, the work has removed hotspot tags from the airport maps pilots use to make their landing plans. "Now that we've improved them, it's a safer, better laid out environment for the general aviation population," Gaines summarizes.

With airfield improvements complete, commercial service will return to NEW this summer for the first time since 1946. Memphis-based Southern Airways Express plans to offer three or four flights daily from the airport in nine-passenger aircraft, beginning in late June.

Elsewhere on the airport, the newly constructed Bastian-Mitchell Hangar with 43,000 square feet of hangar, office and shop space will be available for long-term lease in July. The 29,000-square-foot James Wedell Hangar office and shop space will be available for long-term lease in fall. 

The newly restored Art Deco terminal will be completed later this summer, bringing the total amount of post-hurricane improvements to more than $80 million.


2022 Charlotte Douglas International Airport Report of Achievement

Giving back to the community is central to what Charlotte Douglas International Airport and its operator, the City of Charlotte Aviation Department, is about, and last year was no different. 

Throughout 2022, while recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, we continued our efforts to have a positive impact on the Charlotte community. Of particular note, we spent the year sharing stories of how Connections Don't Just Happen at the Terminal - from creating homeownership and employment opportunities to supporting economic growth through small-business development and offering outreach programs to help residents understand the Airport better.

This whitepaper highlights the construction projects, initiatives, programs and events that validate Charlotte Douglas as a premier airport.

Download the whitepaper: 2022 Charlotte Douglas International Airport Report of Achievement.



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