LaGuardia International Airport (LGA) became the posterchild of the infrastructure crisis facing the U.S. in the past five years thanks in part to politicians using it as a political volleyball and the challenges the facility faced.
After an ambitious plan was announced by New York leaders in 2015 to build $4 billion in improvements to the airport and build a new terminal while not impeding traffic at one of the nation’s busiest commercial airports, it seemed a lofty goal.
But The LaGuardia Partners —the P3 consortium between Vantage Airport Group, Skanska and Meridiam tasked with replacing the central terminal building at the airport — officially took over the terminal and began the project June 1, 2016, and it’s now moving forward full bore.
“Basically, we’re going full guns on many aspects of the development,” said Ed Baklor, chief commercial officer at LaGuarida Gateway Partners. “Our parking garage is coming up out of the ground. It’s about six stories high already and will be open in January with 1,000 more cars than the old garage.”
Baklor said the old parking garage at LGA was completely demolished before Christmas and pile driving for the new head house, which will go over the site of the old garage, is completed. Steel is now coming out of the ground.
Concourse B will be the first of the new concourses built at LGA and Baklor said it’s already well under construction.
“It’s kind of fun for me personally because we started pile driving the week I joined the team in November and steel is already rising for that concourse,” Baklor said. “So, as the guests of the airport are taxiing by, they’re looking right at the steel coming up and that concourse will be open in May .”
The LaGuardia Gateway Partners are on a six-year timeline for completion of the renovations to the airport. While undertaking the project, the consortium is keeping the original terminal open and working to not impede traffic while building above and across the existing LGA terminal.
Baklor said the LGA project is generally on schedule with the original timeline.
The old crescent moon shaped terminal at LGA has four fingers coming out of it for airline traffic. The new terminal places a head house over the site of the old parking structure at LGA and then connects to two fingers for airline boarding.
The head house will connect to the concourses using two “very dramatic” pedestrian bridges, which will give travelers a view of the Manhattan skyline in the distance.
“The pedestrian bridges are literally being built over the top of the old terminal and the new concourses are off to the north,” Baklor said.
“If you look at this picture, what’s interesting about it and what is fascinating from the engineering of the construction, there’s only one place here where the new building actually intersects with the old building and that’s the final portion to be built,” Baklor said. “All of this is being built in, around, in front of, behind and over top of the existing terminal while we’re operating the existing terminal without any impact to the guest flow.”
Baklor said they had to decommission two gates as part of the project, but one of them has been placed back in service. Because the gates are all common use instead of proprietary, LGA Partners is able to better manage the flow so there’s no impact to the guests overall traffic in the building while building a $4 billion complex.
Since 2005, Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) has undergone a modernization program, which entailed upgrades to the airfield such as, runway reconfigurations and new air traffic control tower.
Hansel Whiteurst, vice president of the Midwest region for McKissack & McKissack, said at this point about $13 billion in airport modernizations are completed at ORD, which has included commissioning new runways. In 2016, the second control tower was opened.
The old design at ORD consisted of intersecting runways and taxiways, so Whiteurst said the modernization was an effort to have the runways built in parallel so takeoffs and landings could happen simultaneously. Now the new program, O’Hare 2021, is out to bid, which will invest another $9 billion to $10 billion in actual facility and terminal replacements.
He said the terminal and facilities work could begin in fall and continue for the next decade.
“We’re in the completion phase of the original modernization program and we’re working on the last runway to be commissioned” Whiteurst said. “That’s scheduled to be commissioned in fall of 2020.”
One of the most critical pieces of the project entailed working with support areas, such as deicing pads to make sure it could work with airlines while improvements were being made, Whiteurst said, while also improving the performance of planes getting through the airport.
A major challenge to the project was keeping air traffic moving while making major adjustments to the airfield at ORD. Whiteurst said planners did in-depth analysis of multiple plans to find the best way to proceed.
“We found success in just getting the stakeholders at the table doing a very, very critical analysis of cost and schedule, and really trying to define what the best route is to decommission or move taxiways that link runways to the terminal facilities,” he said. “Having done that on multiple occasions, we’ve been able to find that some of the plans that may seem to be most intrusive were actually the cheapest and they were most successful from the scheduling standpoint and getting runways active and back to normal operations.”
Taxiway L at ORD was reconfigured at the end of 2015 and Whiteurst said the airlines didn’t want planners to shut it down. He said McKissick did a critical schedule analysis and cost analysis of the project and they were able to prove it was most efficient to reconfigure it by taking the roadway out of commission to help make a connection on the new runway.
In advance of the city of New Orleans’ 300th anniversary, the area is building a new $712 million, 820,000 square foot terminal at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY).
“One of their goals is to demonstrate that they’re back after Hurricane Katrina,” said Jordan Taylor, vice president, market sector leader-aviation programs for Leo A Daley. “I think this is a great project for the city to show that they’re interested in investing in their future and they’re doing it with a big splash.”
One of the largest capital projects undertaken in New Orleans in recent history, the new MSY terminal will add gates to the airport while transforming the entire traveler experience.
Taylor was on some of the original site selection work and said they first went to program looking at four different ways of doing the project, ranging from renovating the current facility with expansion to building a new terminal across the airfield from the existing facility.
The Hunt, Gibbs Boh Metro joint venture was selected as the construction manager at-risk for the MSY project, but Taylor said the process wasn’t allowed under Louisiana state law. Project leaders had to go to the state legislature to get the law changed because the city felt it could get the best value and quickest delivery method.
Construction officially began in Jan. 14, 2016, and it’s now about halfway complete.
Taylor said more than 4,000 piles were driven for the new terminal since construction began and the project is shifting toward enclosing the shell of the terminal and focusing on the inside of the facility.
“No sooner than we got the shovels in the ground did the airlines came to the airport and said ‘I don’t think we have enough gate capacity,’” Taylor said.
Planners are looking at adding five net gates to the new terminal.
“I think it’s indicative of our ability to be flexible and work with the airport on making changes that the addition fits within the original plan we had set up of the original building, which planned for two expansion wings,” Taylor said. “It was fairly easy for us to accommodate in that respect because the airfield and the way the building was already set up to do that. It’s just that we implemented it earlier than we expected.”
Taylor said the airport is very interested in attracting more international air service. The original plans had two international/domestic swing gates set for the new facility. The terminal will be built to accommodate a new wing to expand the facility and Taylor said some of the swing gates are being placed in that addition.
They’re also putting in considerations for self-bag drop infrastructure at the new terminal so it can be implemented without impeding the flow of traffic.
Taylor said the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) changed its federal inspection operations to a bag first concept, which is slightly different from what designers had set when creating the plans. Modifications were made to accommodate the change, which is supposed to make the customs and immigration process more efficient for travelers.
“Basically the standard way that passengers are dealt with when they enter is you come in, you got to the immigration desk, they go through your papers, tell you you’re OK, then you go and get your bag and then you go through the customs check and then you’re allowed to enter the country,” said David Daileda, senior project manager – aviation for Leo A Daley. “Under this new concept, it’s sort of one stop, so the first thing you will do is retrieve your bag and then when you go to the desk you will go one time and they will basically be immigration and customs reviews while they go through your papers and bags then you’re free to go.”
The new terminal will consolidate the multiple security checkpoints of the old terminal into one at the new facility. The new facility will also allow for a much more robust concession program at MSY creating more choice to passengers.
“We’ve worked very hard with the airport in bringing forward the things that are specific to New Orleans, which are mainly concessions programs and also we do have some spaces for performance venues within the terminal in a central area,” Taylor said. “They have a little bit of that in the existing terminal now, but part of the problem is a lot of people don’t get exposed to it much because it’s so spread out. That venue will be set up in the central hall so everyone will be able to experience that as they move through the facility.
Part of the terminal includes a window wall designed to withstand Category IV hurricane winds. Taylor said, which will be installed in the coming year.
“One of the things we’re sort of proud of is being able to bring a lot of light and have a glass exposure that’s designed for a very robust wind event,” he said. “It will be interesting to see that coming to fruition and installed.
Since June, the old parking garage has been demolished while work began on the new west parking garage and the new Concourse B. By spring 2018, Baklor said the consortium plans to have the new parking structure completed, the first 11 gates of the new concourse will be open with a temporary connector to the old head house and some of the new roadways will start to come into play.
The group will also start demolition of Pier A and B by summer of 2018. By fall 2018,Baklor said 18 gates will be open on Concourse B and the temporary connector to the old terminal building will still be in use.
By the second quarter of 2020, Baklor said the new headhouse will be open, the Central heating and refrigeration plant will be completed, most of the new roadways and Concourse B will be connected directly to the headhouse by the first of the pedestrian bridge.
“This can be very dramatic because what starts to happen here is as we start to demolish from east to west, the old central terminal building and the old piers, is that that becomes taxiway,” Baklor said. “So it’s essentially doubling the amount of taxiway availability at the airport.”
By eliminating the horseshoe design of the terminal, Baklor said it makes it easier for the airplanes to maneuver, allowing them to push back and power out quickly.
By summer of 2020, Concourse A is slated to open, which will allow for Pier C to be demolished. Progress will then allow for the demolition of Pier D by late 2021 and completion of the project by 2022.
Baklor said LaGuardia Gateway Partners is also investing $5 million into the existing terminal even though it’s going to be torn down to improve the guest experience.
“That’s very important for us with LaGuardia Gateway Partners and Vantage Airport Group, that we’re not just keeping the lights on while we’re building this exciting new building,” he said. “We’re working hard to enhance the guest experience. We’re doing things like painting, changing lightbulbs, fixing lighting fixtures, repairing roof leaks, all of which have happened in the first nine months that we’ve been operating the facility.”
Baklor said LaGuardia Gateway Partners is also using the existing terminal as an incubator for technology they can bring to the new building. The consortium is using beacons and monitors to assist arriving passengers about information about the taxi queue and when the next express bus to the subway will arrive so guests can make a decision on ground transportation.
Baklor said they’re also using the technology to monitor flow at Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security checkpoints.
One of the challenges with the existing terminal is most of the food and beverage vendors are located outside of the sterile side of security due to a lack of physical space. By allowing passengers to see how long they will wait in the TSA line, it lets them know if they have time to eat before passing through security.
Baklor said the group is also very active on social media to update the public about what to expect at the airport and the project. They also update them on traffic and mass transit advisories.
“When you get here, we’re working really hard not just on the physical improvements that I mentioned and technology improvements, but we’re also just trying to make the trip a little more fun,” he said. “On heavy peak days, we’ve introduced our LaGuardia Terminal Fun Squad. If you have a long wait for a taxi in the queue or a long wait in queue for security, we’re doing card tricks, juggling and New York trivia games with some of the lines trying to keep the children occupied. We did it during President’s Day, we did it over Christmastime and we’re going to continue to do that through our peak summer.”
In the existing terminal, one of the things they’re using to determine plans in the new facility is food hall furniture. The existing furniture is quite old and dates, Baklor said, so they’re trying different types of chairs the consortium is considering for the new terminal and are asking guests to tell them which are the best ones.
Baklor attended Passenger Terminal Expo in March and used it as an opportunity to visit several different airports in Europe to see what their commercial programs and guest service programs looked like. It provided some great wayfinding ideas Baklor said he had never seen before.
This also means planning for the future and the advent of self-bag drop and being able to accommodate the technology easily.
“We’re continuing to ensure that we’re going to be the airport of the future and we’re also building this airport to be very flexible around things going forward,” he said.