Airport Case Study: Flight Plan

The assistant director of aviation for facilities and the director of aviation at McCarran International Airport discuss the new wing in Vegas.
The assistant director of aviation for facilities and the director of aviation at McCarran International Airport discuss the new wing in Vegas.

Airport Case Study: Flight Plan

Airport Case Study: Flight Plan

By Anne Cosgrove
Published in the September 2008 issue of Facility Executive

The D Concourse in McCarran           International Airport's Terminal 1

The D Concourse in McCarran International Airport’s Terminal 1 is complete with the construction of the northwest wing. The 128,000 square foot facility is the last section of the D Concourse, which has four wings. (Photo: Clark County Department of Aviation)

For nearly half of the people who visit Las Vegas, McCarran International Airport is the first place they walk through on their way to business, leisure, or both. This city in the desert receives millions of visitors each year-37.2 million in 2007, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority—and the airport is an integral part of any experience at this popular destination.

Officials at the Clark County Department of Aviation (CCDOA), which owns and operates McCarran, diligently work to ensure the airport has the facilities necessary to keep up with the heavy passenger traffic they see each year. In 2007, the airport handled record breaking passenger traffic, totaling 47.7 million.

While McCarran has seen a decrease in traffic this year (down 3.2% YTD through June 2008 compared to the same period in 2007), the need for more capacity remains. Randall H. Walker, director of aviation for CCDOA since 1997, says, “There are about 30,000 hotel rooms currently under construction, and hotel rooms are principally what drive our traffic.”

Following years of growth, the CCDOA created a facilities master plan—Vision 2020—to carry the airport through the 21st century. This plan included adding a D Concourse with four wings as a satellite onto Terminal 1; a security checkpoint and a pedestrian bridge for passengers traveling through the existing C Concourse of Terminal 1; and an entire terminal (Terminal 3).

The most recent item in the master plan to be completed is the D Concourse at Terminal 1. When it opened in 1998, the D Concourse contained two wings and 26 passenger gates. A third wing with 10 gates opened in 2005. Slated to begin operating this month is the fourth and final wing, which, with nine gates, will bring the total number of gates at the airport to 104. The northwest wing (as the final section of D Concourse is named) contains 128,000 square feet and, in addition to the passenger gates, houses retail shops, restaurants, and back of house spaces.

The newly renovated lobby
McCarran’s newest wing in the D Concourse contains retail shops and eateries, like the previously constructed wings (including the one pictured here). (Photo: Clark County Department of Aviation)

Building The Wing

Construction on the northwest wing began in September 2006, several years earlier than originally planned. “The D gates and Terminal 3 were put into the master plan at the same time,” explains Walker. “Originally, Terminal 3 was going to be constructed before the northwest wing of the D Concourse.”

However, a change of personnel at the regional division of the FAA altered that plan. “We were finishing our environmental assessment for Terminal 3, and the personnel there wanted us to do it over again,” explains Walker. “The environmental work for the northwest wing was already complete, so we reversed the process and built that last wing of the D gates first.”

Throughout the construction process, Bob Kingston, assistant director of aviation, facilities, and his group have been involved in ensuring the new structure will integrate as seamlessly as possible into the D Concourse. “We have closely coordinated with our [in-house] construction and engineering group and [general contractor] Bechtel for the new wing,” he says. “Among other things, we were involved in handling utility interruptions. We needed to schedule some late night activities, so we would not disrupt our normal daily operations.”

Airport staff also took measures to minimize the impact on front of house operations. “We had a construction wall put up to cordon off the construction area from the public operating area,” says Kingston. “[The facilities group] then installed a double door in that wall, so we could have items delivered to the site and have a means to get to that area, along with the other groups supporting the project.”

Says Walker, “The biggest issue, in terms of operations, was on the ramp side where the airplanes park and taxi. The construction impacted a gate in the southwest wing, and it had to be restricted as to the size of aircraft.”

A Chat With Bob Kingston, assistant director of aviation facilities

Bob Kingston, assistant director of aviation, facilities (Photo: Clark County Department of Aviation)

What are your responsibilities at McCarran International Airport? To make sure everything keeps working. That’s it in a nutshell!

How long have you worked at McCarran? Since 2002. About half of my tenure here was as an airport engineer, responsible for the electrical side of the house.

How many years have you worked in the facility management profession? 13. Prior to working at the airport, I was with Clark County in public works.

What changes have occurred in the aviation industry during your tenure at McCarran International that have affected your job? One is certainly changes at the federal level in terms of security mandates. Any time that somebody attempts something at an airport or an airline, the federal government and the airports collectively look at ways of reducing the risk of that threat, and that results in ever changing security mandates. Fortunately, it has recently been somewhat static, but that could change at any moment. There is also the economy, with rising costs of oil and the impact on airlines. That has generated a lot of political pressure by airlines to reduce operating costs at airports.

Now that the D Concourse is complete, what other projects are you working on? We are finishing up the refurbishment of our vertical transportation, and we have several other modernization projects (capital funded projects), which involve refurbishment of existing facilities. We also have some of the original baggage handling equipment that we purchased from the airlines and took over that needs to be updated. So, it’s mostly refurbishment projects along with everything associated with our Terminal 3 package.

The newly renovated lobby

(Photo: Clark County Department of Aviation)

Preparing For Take Off

Airport staff have been working to bring the facility to a state of readiness. Kingston explains that his facilities group is working with the in-house construction and engineering team and Bechtel on the commissioning elements of the new wing.

Meanwhile, the facilities department, along with other airport departments, is busy installing furniture and fixtures in the front of house areas. “We’ve had quite a bit of coordination with the tenants there as well,” says Kingston. “Those operations have ultimate customer service impact.”

Kingston and his staff have also been working behind the scenes to get building systems up and running. As part of this, facilities staff members spent several weeks entering new equipment information into the airport’s computerized maintenance management system (CMMS). Kingston explains the process was facilitated to an extent by the fact that his group has master specifications for mechanical, electrical, and plumbing items in place, as well as for airport specific equipment like jet bridges.

“By doing that,” he says, “we standardized on a lot of our equipment, and the work plans and the maintenance plans for the equipment are the same. There’s just more of it. From a maintenance management perspective, this process has basically been adding the new assets into the CMMS and then attaching all of the work plans and the associated frequency of those work plans onto those assets.”

The Next Step

Completing the D Concourse will mark a milestone as the CCDOA continues its work of keeping up with the fluctuating number of travelers each year.

Six of the nine new gates in the northwest wing have been allocated for two carriers operating at McCarran. Walker explains that when the wing opens, United Airlines will move to five of the gates and AirTran Airways will use one. “That movement gives us space to grow in the other areas,” he says.

In conjunction with the opening of the northwest wing, a new security checkpoint for the C gates will alleviate the crush of passenger traffic, especially during peak times. “By building this new checkpoint,” Walker explains, “we will be able to move most of the C Gate passenger processing to the new checkpoint which will shift lanes currently dedicated to C over to D. This flexibility will help us to address our peak processing challenge. There are 12 processing lanes in the new checkpoint.”

This           rendering of the northwest wing of McCarran's D Concourse reveals the           interior layout of the space
This rendering of the northwest wing of McCarran’s D Concourse reveals the interior layout of the space. (Photo: Clark County Department of Aviation)

Buckle Up

Nevertheless, the additional gates and security checkpoint lanes will not solve all of the traffic flow challenges at McCarran. Since the northwest wing of D Concourse was not originally planned for construction until after Terminal 3 was built, transporting people between the D gates and the main section of Terminal 1 will put the rail tram that shuttles people back and forth under heavier use.

Walker explains that switching the order of construction has caused this scenario. “When Terminal 3 is opened, over half of the D Gates will be serviced out of there; there will be an underground train system connecting them. But currently, all D Gates will continue to be served out of Terminal 1. By adding the fourth [northwest] wing, we expect to have some congestion problems; the original master plan never envisioned all four wings being transported to and from Terminal 1. However, it is more effective to have those gates to process the people, with the challenge, than to not have any gates to process the people through at all.”

On the facilities side, a challenge will be to handle the increased square footage without additional personnel. “We typically add more employees when we add space,” says Walker. “In this particular year, with the economic situation the way it is, we did not hire people in this budget cycle.”

Says Kingston, “We would have preferred to have more staffing to support the new wing, but we need to be frugal with our overall budget. So when we generate preventive maintenance work orders for that wing, we’ll have to reprioritize some of our other work to make sure we keep that facility operating at peak efficiency.”

When the northwest wing opens this month, passengers moving through McCarran’s D Concourse will enjoy more room in the facility. Even if passenger traffic doesn’t hit another record high in 2008, it is safe to say management at the airport is already looking to the next step in expansion.

This article was based on interviews with Kingston and Walker.

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