Posted by Chris Oswald
Earlier this week, I had the opportunity Monday to visit John F. Kennedy International Airport to see the progress that’s been made reconstructing one of the longest runways in the world—14,572-foot Runway 13R‑31L. As part of this reconstruction project, JFK’s owner—the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey—is also widening the runway from 150 feet to 200 feet, enhancing exit taxiways, and upgrading marking and lighting systems. I want to thank to Patty Clark, Jim Steven, Tom Bock and John Selden for making arrangements for my visit.
The runway reconstruction itself has involved milling the existing asphalt concrete runway pavement and placing an 18-inch Portland cement concrete “overlay” atop the existing runway alignment.
A key aspect of this the project involves how the Port Authority has worked with its contractors, the FAA, and airline partners to minimize the impacts of the runway construction project on airfield operations. Even prior to construction activities, JFK consistently ranked as one of the three most delayed airports in the United States. The Port Authority realized that with the construction project, the JFK would lose 25 to 50 percent of its already constrained runway capacity, depending on wind and weather conditions.
The work to minimize these impacts began during the initial planning and design of the reconstruction and drove an aggressive 120-day schedule for reconstruction of the western two-thirds of the runway. The Port Authority also worked closely with the airlines serving JFK—including the airport’s primary domestic carriers jetBlue, Delta Airlines (and its regional airline partners), and American Airlines—to manage their Spring 2010 flight schedules in accordance with the reduced capacity of the runway system.
The Port Authority also worked with the FAA and its airline partners to proactively manage aircraft surface operations to minimize airfield congestion, taxiing delays, and fuel burn. To do this, the Port Authority turned to tools and coordination mechanisms that it already had in place to manage delays during irregular operations (e.g., snow events).
Since the closure of Runway 13R-31L in March, the Port Authority has been providing centralized ramp control and taxi-out metering services from a dedicated facility in its Airport Operations Center. The staff at this facility collaborate with airline ramp control facilities, station managers, and flight operations centers in real-time to ensure that aircraft are held on or near their gates until they have departure “slot” available. What was clear during my visit is that the effective operation of this “collaborative surface management system” depends much more on the humans in system than the technology. The system at JFK only works so long as the disparate and, often competing, airlines agree to accept some level of delays in the interest of preserving better efficiency for all.