Meticulous planning keeps the US’s busiest airport on track during often complex infrastructure development projects, writes Skanska’s Matt Frey.
Considering that it accommodates one of the largest passenger volumes of any airport in the world, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) has a relatively petite footprint with little surrounding area to expand.
This means that when updates are needed at ATL, project design must build in a cascade of preparations to maintain smooth airport operations while construction is underway on expansions or renovations that are often directly adjacent to active passenger gates or airplane taxiways.
ATL has 195 boarding gates, more than any other global airport, and they were certainly all needed as it was the world’s busiest airport from 1989 to 2020, handling more than 100 million passengers annually.
Decreased traffic during the COVID-19 pandemic meant that it was overtaken for the number one spot by Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport in southern China in 2020, but it almost certainly regained the title of world’s busiest airport last year based on the 75 million passengers (+76%) that passed through its facilities in 2021.
The current expansion of the north end of Concourse T at ATL, bringing five additional passenger gates to the 17 already in use on that concourse, illustrates the complex co-ordination such projects require.
This $259 million project is a joint venture between Skanska, Atlanta’s New South Construction, FS360 of Sandy Springs, GA, and Synergy Development Partners based in Atlanta.
The new gate expansion design had to facilitate passenger convenience within the airport while also considering optimal airplane manoeuvrability requirements to preserve wing tip safety zones outside as aircraft push in and out of the gates and navigate the taxiways.
These new gates in Concourse T are the first additions at ATL in nearly 10 years since the international terminal in Concourse F was completed in 2012. They are an important milestone that support the airport’s mission to better serve passengers.
Long before considering jet bridges, interior modifications, and new gate arrangements, the team began groundwork to prepare for the expansion. Some of the enabling components of this project include:
• Re-routing a major portion of the North Terminal exit road
• Significant civil engineering work identifying buried utility infrastructure with laser scanning equipment (much remains in place from its initial installation 50 years ago and is not well mapped), recording locations of lines to facilitate safe digging for this and any future projects, creating access manholes for maintenance, and repositioning infrastructure away from planned construction areas if necessary
• Demolishing one of the airport fire stations and replacing it in a new location
• Rebuilding a station for the transformers and main power feed of Georgia Power that supplies electricity to the airport
• Laying a new fibre network to support the entire airport’s communications and internet connectivity, and
• Constructing a new facility for ground support equipment.
At present, Skanska is managing a significant number of construction projects at 11 distinct sites within the ATL property. These are part of a much larger framework for renovating and expanding ATL called ATLNext that aims to increase capacity, update existing facilities, and enhance airport aesthetics.
This long-term vision aligns with the goal of making this most-heavily-travelled airport also the most convenient to navigate, keeping it attractive both to passengers and to the airlines which choose to route their flights through ATL.
The new federal infrastructure bill recently passed by the US Congress includes $600 million for airports in the state of Georgia. This may allow ATL to move forward with more of the projects outlined in ATLNext in the coming years.
With so many overlapping projects that must be completed in sequence to keep airport operations running and mindful of the domino effect of global supply chain interruptions, Skanska and its partners have been methodical in procuring materials for these ATL projects well ahead of when they are needed.
Typically, construction managers aim to have building supplies delivered just in time for their use to minimise the need for storage and reduce the risk of damage during intermediate moves.
During this period of uncertainty due to COVID-19 challenges, materials are being acquired as soon as they are available and stored locally to ensure that delayed procurement does not affect tight project timelines that aim to complete this expansion of Concourse T by the spring of 2023.
Another strategy to maintain a steady pace of progress on these projects is delineating significant areas within construction zones as non-secure spaces to allow access by a larger pool of subcontractors, easing personnel shortages and budget constraints that may result from restricting access only to security-credentialled workers.
Ten separate design teams are involved in the detailed planning of Skanska’s ongoing projects at ATL. Careful health precautions are practiced on the jobsites to prevent the spread of illness and keep workers safe and healthy.
Compliance with these procedures has kept the job sites running throughout the COVID-19 pandemic without any closures due to significant viral outbreaks. Many of these sites are generously staffed to allow continuous 24/7 schedules to meet deadlines.
ATL covers 4,700 acres of land and boasts five parallel runways, has the tallest airport control tower in the United States, and the largest workforce in the state of Georgia.
Across its airline, ground transportation, concessions, security, airport tenant, city, state, and federal workers, ATL employs more than 63,000 people, with a payroll of $2.4 billion and an outsized economic impact on the local and regional economy.
ATL lies within a two-hour flight radius for 80% of the population of the United States. Keeping such an active airport functioning smoothly during construction projects is a vital concern, since problems at one airport have a ripple effect with the potential to snarl air traffic across the United States and even around the world.
Any proposed changes at the airport require final approval from a committee of airline carrier representatives. Skanska and its partners work tirelessly to keep ATL humming while they are steadily working to upgrade, expand, renovate, and modernize this critical transportation hub.
About the author
Matt Frey is Skansa’s vice president and account manager.
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