In this issue:

Airports and Sustainability

Early in the pandemic as the aviation industry was just beginning to pivot, we reflected on why sustainability was more important than ever. Nine months later—we believe many of these points hold true. We encourage airports to shift their thinking of sustainability from it being a “nice-to-have” to a using it as a unifying concept that addresses destabilizing hazards. Sustainability is a tool to help airports respond to issues like the pandemic, social inequities that underlie our nation, and the compounding effects of climate change. Here are just a few reasons why sustainability can help—not hinder—your responses and the transition to recovery.

1 – Renewables offer a financial lifeline and budget stabilization
It wasn’t long ago airports were installing relatively small solar systems as a public commitment to “going green.” The cost of renewables, even just 10-15 years ago, was so prohibitively high that renewables were reserved for only the most committed stewards. That dynamic has shifted considerably in recent years, where renewables have become a business proposition to airports. Rapidly declining prices and significant incentives have made large-scale renewables, particularly solar, attractive development options. These systems enable airports to lock in stabilized electricity rates for as long as 25 or 30 years, helping to reduce uncertainty in long term budgeting. What’s more, these systems can even generate revenue in the form of lease payments. Of course, the cherry on top is the delivery of carbon-free renewable electricity helping to power airports into the future.

Solar panels

Amidst uncertainty in our rapidly changing world, it may seem tempting to sideline renewable energy projects in favor of more pressing near-term priorities. But, in a time when cash flow is top of mind for airports, renewables may actually be part of the solution. Creative financing options such as power purchase agreements enable airports to capture the economic benefits of solar with zero upfront cost, and third-party ownership eliminates maintenance costs while enabling the capture of tax incentives that are set to decline in future years. If there were ever a time to lean in on renewables, or even energy efficiency, that time might just be now.

2 – Pandemic disparities underscore the inequities of another global risk
By now, we have seen that the pandemic’s effects across our nation were not equally distributed. Like climate change, the pandemic disproportionately impacted those with fewer resources, access to healthcare, and options to change their work or daily responsibilities. Further, many of these impacts were compounded by climate change given its effects on human health and 2020’s devastating storm and fire seasons. As we approach 2021, many businesses and airports have already made major headway on their diversity and inclusion efforts following this spring’s nationwide call for social justice. Incorporating equitable action—to both the pandemic and climate change—into our recovery and transition plans will only make us stronger on the other side. By seeking to solve multiple challenges with similar underlying issues, we can efficiently and effectively achieve resilience to future hazards.

3 – The health and well-being pillar of sustainability is now paramount
As we’ve seen, there is an ever-expanding list of ways airports and airlines can improve passenger health, safety, and well-being in the face of a pandemic. Aircraft and terminal cleaning protocols, and improved ventilation, are now a focal point for the industry. A growing number of airports have achieved Airports Council International – North America’s Airport Health Accreditation or the GBAC STAR Accreditation, verifying their efforts to protect those who travel or work in their facilities. While many options are under review, it is important to balance the sanitation and disinfection benefits with other health considerations. The industry will benefit from broad information sharing and can look to entities and resources like the Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP), which offers public health research, and the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), which established the Task Force on COVID-19. IWBI’s task force informs new guidelines for respiratory infection prevention, preparedness, resilience and recovery, and resulted in the creation of the WELL Health Safety Rating (HSR). Additional industry recognized entities have developed congruent guidance, including the Fitwel Viral Response Module, and LEED’s Arc Re-Entry Pilot Credit. This is also a time for innovation. Artificial intelligence provides new possibilities for addressing public health and providing economies of scope and scale. Fortunately, the aviation industry has an excellent foundation of deploying emerging technologies to address new hurdles and customer concerns.

As we look to the future, developing a long-term plan for preparing and responding to public health crises will show a commitment to the health and safety of the airport community. Increased knowledge and awareness of communicable diseases will support the integration of public health risks and vulnerabilities into resilience planning. The increased emphasis on public health and safety will support broader efforts to address employee and passenger health and well-being. Tools such as the WELL Building Standard (WELL) and Fitwel certification can support comprehensive and valuable improvements to an airport’s built and social environment. Efforts enacted in response to the current situation, such as enhanced ventilation, cleaning services, increased sanitizing options, and communicable disease preparedness plans, are stepping stones to achieving WELL and Fitwel certification. Health and wellness have always played a part in airport sustainability, but they will have the opportunity to play a more prominent role as we move forward.

4 – Avoiding the single-use comeback takes diligence but pays dividends
As the aviation industry heightened its focus on health and safety, airlines and airports pushed pause on efforts to reduce single-use products. This return to disposable service wear came on the heels of a nation-wide decline in recycling over the past two years, brought on by disruptions in the global recycling market.  Taken together, the pandemic and pre-existing economic trends in recycling have reaffirmed that airports cannot rely on recycling to solve our waste problem. So, in this time when generation of materials may be increasing, airports need to focus on reducing demand and addressing the supply chain (i.e., selecting materials with minimal impacts).

With activity levels historically low, revisiting waste management and procurement practices may seem like low priorities. However, the rebound in travel will be closely followed by skyrocketing generation of specific materials—such as gloves and cleaning supplies. Establishing working groups now around these topics can help prepare for more sustainable solutions on both the inputs to, and management of, the system. Industry groups like ACI-NA and Airport Consultants Council (ACC) have issued valuable guidance regarding new or increasing waste streams. Likewise, holistic rating systems including TRUE provide resources that can be applied to your planning efforts even if not pursuing certification.

On an encouraging note, airports, concessionaires, and recently, airlines, are taking action to limit waste and help communities by donating unsold perishables to local charities or health care workers. These programs were previously established at many airports, but the heightened focus on community stemming from current conditions may lead to broader implementation and new relationship building. As waste management fees increase, these programs can even offer cost savings. 

Surplus food donation is a perfect example of what sustainability can, and should, mean—benefiting people, minimizing impacts, and reducing costs. This lens can be applied to all decision making to enable long-term thinking, even when faced with short-term challenges.

In a time of unprecedented challenges, a strengthened commitment to sustainability can make a major difference. It shows communities that airports care, it facilitates balanced solutions, and it enables financial stability even with uncertainty. We hope airports will maintain the momentum gained over the past decade as we enter the next one, no matter the hurdles.

Carly Shannon, LEED AP, ENV SP, True Advisor, Director
Corey Johnson, CEM, ENV SP, Principal Consultant
Kailey Eldredge, LEED AP, ENV SP, Senior Consultant

To learn more about incorporating sustainability at your airport, contact Carly at cshannon@cscos.com, or (315) 420-7961.

Constructing the GRR Terminal Apron Reconstruction and Expansion

After experiencing one of the largest enplanement increases in the U.S. in 2018, the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, Michigan accelerated its capital program to expand Concourse A of its two-concourse terminal. Described as a revolutionary three development expansion by the airport, Project Elevate (as the project was dubbed) will accommodate the increase in aircraft ground traffic and create a more seamless experience for passengers and airlines. As a result of the expansion, C&S was tasked with expanding the terminal apron.

The level of complexity to construct such a project while maintaining operations at the airport was no small feat. During the life of the terminal apron expansion, the project team experienced challenges that included coordination of concurrent projects, near-zero float schedule requirements caused by funding issues, abnormal weather, and a once-in-a-century pandemic. The partnership and communication between the Airport Authority, stakeholders, contractor, and the C&S team proved crucial to the successful completion of this award-winning project, despite the numerous challenges encountered by the team.

Terminal Apron Reconstruction
When the airport expansion was announced in the Spring of 2018, the existing terminal apron was in its first month of a 2-year, $30 million reconstruction. The terminal apron reconstruction project consisted of a total replacement of 150,000 SY of concrete pavement and the construction of two glycol collection systems, taxiway rehabilitation and new apron lighting. A detailed construction safety and phasing plan (CSPP) was developed to minimize impacts to passenger service and to work within the constraints of the FAA funding schedule as the pavement replacement impacted 11 of the 15 gates at the terminal. During the project’s seven phases of construction, regular stakeholder meetings were conducted prior to each phase change to coordinate the relocation of airlines which included repositioning jet bridges, relocating IT infrastructure, moving aircraft, and new taxi routes. The extra level of coordination resulted in no flight delays, and maintained a high level of passenger satisfaction.

Gerald R Ford Airport Apron Reconstruction

Scope Changes
Recognizing the aggressive schedule, the design team immediately began analyzing how to accelerate the apron expansion design to satisfy the Airport Authority’s milestones. This required flexibility and communication between the design team and stakeholders. Several elements including the storm drainage and capacity increase for of one of the glycol collection systems were completed as part of the reconstruction project. In addition, the team had to redesign the pavement section where the future Concourse would be constructed. The underdrain was relocated, the water main was realigned, extended and installed, and the once proposed PCC pavement section was changed to a temporary asphalt section to save cost. Following acceptance by the FAA and MDOT, the project was bid in early 2019.

Schedule Revisions and Funding
During the award period, Project Elevate’s construction phasing began to conflict with the apron expansion’s phasing. Reconstruction of the apron had progressed to Phase 6 of 7 and the proposed phasing plan for soon-to-begin terminal expansion would not provide the necessary areas to accommodate additional RON spaces needed for the recent airline growth. The C&S team and contractor reviewed phasing alternatives and revised the phasing plans to accommodate both projects. The revised phasing plans were reviewed with all stakeholders. With smaller work areas, the project’s completion was pushed to the spring of 2020, eliminating any float between the apron expansion and Project Elevate.

In July 2019, ground broke on the terminal apron expansion project along with continued progress on the terminal apron reconstruction. The Airport Authority was waiting on Federal funding for the apron expansion project. The contractor progressed the first $2 million of construction and coordinated heavily with the FAA and MDOT to allow the performance production PCC pavement on both projects without separating the quality assurance testing when the contractor crossed the project limit to the other project. With approximately one week left until the $2 million threshold was reached the Airport Authority received the remaining federal funding for the project.

Environmental Obstacles
The fall of 2019 was a critical time for both projects. When it came time to place the cement treated base on both projects, Grand Rapids experienced unseasonably wet weather. Production was slowed as rain saturated the subbase and prevented paving operations to occur even on clear, sunny days. In order to accelerate drying the subbase, the C&S team and contractor worked together for solutions and installed additional underdrains resulting in stable subbase that could accommodate the heavy loads from paving operations.

Later in the season, southwest Michigan experienced some of the coldest weather on record, preventing PCC and HMA pavement production from progressing. The inability to complete this work before winter would have required the airport to close a taxiway leading to the terminal for the winter season and causing significant operational inefficiencies. C&S’s engineers and the contractor worked together to devise a solution of placing temporary HMA in the unpaved areas for the winter, allowing the taxiway to open. Stakeholders were engaged in the decision process to support the solution that restricted the taxiway to smaller aircraft for the winter until it could be completed the following year. 

Pandemic

As the engineering and construction teams were preparing to remobilize in the early spring of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic struck the country, delaying the restart of the project as the project teams assessed the logistics of safely progressing the project. With the sudden decrease in air travel and unfavorable passenger projections for the near-future, the airport announced there would be an indefinite hold on Project Elevate until the impacts of the pandemic could be better assessed. The terminal apron expansion, however, was given the go-ahead to continue. The airport, engineer, and contractor all worked with their health and safety teams to develop protocols which included the usage of masks, additional lavatory facilities, hand sanitizing stations throughout the project site, and sanitization of all security devices by gate guards after each use. The project was restarted in mid-April and the project was completed without one teammate testing positive for the virus.

Greg Fehrman

Greg Fehrman

Considering the incredible obstacles confronted, the project was still completed under budget and met the Airport Authority’s schedule expectations. Over the duration of construction, no airline flights were significantly delayed or cancelled, and safety and security were maintained. Ultimately, the robust stakeholder engagement over the 5 years of design and construction was the most significant factor in making this project a breakthrough to success.

Greg Fehrman, PE, LEED AP, ENV SP, Senior Construction Supervisor

To learn more about this project, contact Greg at gfehrman@cscos.com, or (904) 720-7009.

Ken Gethers photo

Ken Gethers

Ken Gethers, a senior project engineer in our San Diego office, shares his experience on becoming an engineer at C&S and his hopes for the aviation industry moving forward.

Tell us a little about yourself.

  • I was born and raised in Syracuse, NY, but did live in Atlanta, GA for about a year because my father was in the military. I attended Bishop Grimes for high school and went on to Houghton College on a basketball scholarship for my first year of college. Things didn’t go quite the way I intended there so I transferred to the Rochester Institute of Technology where I played basketball and pursued/graduated with a civil engineering technology degree.
  • About a year after graduating from college, I joined C&S after being introduced to the company from a men’s basketball league teammate whose wife worked here. I’ve worked for C&S for about 10 years in different departments including 6 years in C&S’s aviation group.
  • Interesting facts about me…
    • After college I played in a semi-professional league for 2 years, where Dennis Rodman was my coach and I played one of our games at the world famous Madison Square Garden. 
    • Before COVID -19, I volunteered on Sundays at my church, where I worked with a program called Miracle 139. Through this program, I have the privilege of interacting, sharing my faith, and learning from kids who have physical/mental disabilities. It has been one of the greatest and humbling opportunities I’ve had in my life.
    • I met my wife in my freshman year of high school and we’ve been together ever since. We have 2 beautiful, energetic kids who definitely make life meaningful.

Tell us three things most people don’t know about you.

  • I’m currently working on my first children’s book being released in the near future
  • I was selected to be a model and walk the runway for a fashion show (after college)
  • I was the co-head coach of my high school basketball program before I moved to San Diego

What or whom first inspired you to become an engineer?

  • My father, who was a carpenter, introduced me to the career during my summers off from school. My college advisor also had an influence.

What are three career lessons you’ve learned thus far?

  • Talent will take you places only your character can sustain
  • Things are never as good as you think they are or as bad as you think they are—stay even-keeled.
  • Be cognizant of sharpening the tool—continuous learning

What has been your favorite project at C&S, and why?

  • My favorite project was C&S’s award-winning SUNY Oswego Infrastructure Study and Condition Assessment. It was a transformational project for C&S as it related to infrastructure information modeling at the time. It was the first project of that type for our company and was one of my first major projects after joining C&S. It was a wonderful learning opportunity that involved real team collaboration to complete the project.

What are your hopes for the aviation industry?

  • 2020 was a year of change as it relates to how we live our daily lives. Most of the challenges were a direct impact of COVID-19, but this time also gave us a glimpse into the state of diversity and race relations in our country. The situation has forced us to see how many human beings in this country are being treated unjustly. In my opinion, one of the root causes is a lack of understanding/respect or the lack of meaningful outreach to minority communities. All this to say my true hopes for the aviation industry is that it takes effective steps in being a more diverse (race/sex/culture) industry. One of the main benefits I see in becoming a diverse industry is the creation of new ideas and perspective, which will ultimately lead to better policies, innovation, workforce, and adaption for the future.

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