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Tips for Avoiding Airport Construction Mishaps

Keys to Avoiding Airport Construction Mishaps

Awareness of airport construction begins with checking NOTAMs, but pilots should check airport websites and social media sites and communicate with controllers, too.

August 13, 2018

For most business aircraft pilots, construction equipment and barricades are familiar sights, as airports continue to maintain and expand their infrastructure. However, aviators may not realize the level of preparation that goes into ensuring that such projects do not unnecessarily affect operations or pose a threat to aircraft or personnel.

Awareness of airport construction begins with checking NOTAMs ahead of departure and throughout the trip, although this alone may not be enough to avoid surprises.

“The FAA holds us accountable for ensuring NOTAMs are reliable and accurate, but we try to go above and beyond, because not everyone sees them,” said Ben Clendaniel, senior airport manager for New Castle Airport near Wilmington, DE. “For example, we have a [manufacturer service center] on the field, and most of their ground operations involve maintainers at the controls. They don’t often check NOTAMs, so we need to make certain they’re aware of projects, too.”

That process includes distribution of a PowerPoint construction phasing plan to all airport stakeholders ahead of the construction project start date, including graphics of each phase of the project and information regarding oper-ational impacts and mitigations. Airport personnel also try to meet face-to-face with airport tenants and users whenever possible to discuss upcoming work on the field.

“There are lots of moving parts with any construction project, and it can be hard to wrap the lasso around all of them,” Clendaniel noted. “No two pilots are the same, and we’re constantly thinking of areas where they could potentially miss vital information. We must always assume that if a mistake can be made, it will be made.”

Social media is another emerging tool for airports to spread information about construction. “We hadn’t really looked at resources like Facebook and Twitter as communication methods even five years ago, but we came to realize their importance for quick and effective communication with tenants and users,” said Brian Lewis, operations director at Centennial Airport near Denver, CO. “We also keep our website updated with the latest construction information, including graphics of construction zones.”

Upon arrival, towered airports offer an additional resource to help pilots avoid construction areas. “Don’t hesitate to ask for a progressive taxi,” said Lewis. “Construction is a dynamic environment, and everyone must be on their game.”

“Pilots and controllers must help one another,” said David Siewert, air traffic manager at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. “When a controller says something, a pilot should absolutely check and re-check what they’re being told; the controllers should do the same. We’re a team, and such checks and balances are instrumental to working together.”

Avoiding Airport Construction Mishaps

Robert Berlucchi, co-chair of the FAA’s Airport Construction Advisory Council and air traffic manager at Florida’s Palm Beach International Airport, suggests that the most effective method for pilots to avoid construction-related mishaps is to slow down and maintain situational awareness to avoid complacency.

“Airport construction disrupts rou-tines and processes that have been in place for years, and it takes everyone involved outside their daily routines,” said Berlucchi. “The truth is that if you’re not a little uncomfortable or uncertain, you may be putting yourself in a bad position.”

An unpleasant experience with airport construction drove that point home for Larry Karpurk, a senior pilot for the Salt River Project and a member of the NBAA Safety Committee.

"We were a two-person crew flying a King Air into a untowered field,” he explained. “There was a NOTAM for paving underway around the ramp, but it was rather generic, so we also spoke with the airport manager, who reassured us we’d be able to see the construction areas.”

However, the manager didn’t realize the crew would be landing at night – a moonless night at that.

“We landed an hour after sunset and taxied towards the ramp,” said Karpurk. “I realized something wasn’t quite right because there was no striping reflecting our landing lights, but we also saw no barricades, flags or flashers. We proceeded to taxi onto wet asphalt.”

Karpurk has since made a point to ask if construction zones are flagged. “Just because you can see it during the daytime doesn’t mean it will be visible at night.”

ADVISORY COUNCIL HELPS MITIGATE AIRPORT CONSTRUCTION RISKS

Formed in 2010, the FAA’s Airport Construction Advisory Council (ACAC) is a working group composed of more than 30 agency and industry representatives tasked with identifying potentially dangerous situations during airport construction projects and working with stakeholders to mitigate those risks. NBAA was among the initial members of the ACAC and remains active on the council.

“We look for the common thread for successful and safe construction processes,” explained ACAC Founding Member and Co-Chair David Siewert, air traffic manager at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. “Our primary focus areas are to provide tools that directly support airports and controllers and develop communications mechanisms to ensure this information is readily available to all stakeholders.”

ACAC initiatives include planning and providing checklists for airports to utilize for different construction project types, and troubleshooting methods to mitigate significant impacts, delays or operational concerns.

One result of ACAC’s efforts has been to have NOTAMs for construction prioritized on the FAA’s PilotWeb resource. Flight crews may have also noticed a recent ACAC program to replace the ubiquitous red, white and amber airport signage with a distinct color – construction zone orange – to better differentiate areas where work is being done.

ACAC representatives also provide on-site consultation and support at airports undergoing construction, as well as exhibit and host seminars for pilots at industry events like NBAA’s Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition.

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This article originally appeared in the July/August 2018 issue of Business Aviation Insider. Download the magazine app for iOS and Android tablets and smartphones.