September 3, 2005
The reconstruction of an airfield may
have been completed in the nick of time. Officials at New
Orleans' Louis Armstrong Airport were literally finishing
up an $83-million airfield reconstruction program last week
before Hurricane Katrina hit. That may have made all the difference
in enabling the airport's two runways to reopen for emergency
relief operations, according to Mario Rodriguez, a civil engineer
and deputy director of planning and development for the airport.
About a year ago, new airport director Roy Williams prioritized
repaving and reconstruction of the 10,000-ft runways over
terminal refurbishment, says Rodriguez. "We didn't have
a crystal ball, but we'd known the runways' elevation had
to be raised" in case of a hurricane, Rodriguez said
Friday evening, speaking by phone from an emergency office
in Dallas. Crews had installed polystyrene sections to address
settlement, taken out the old concrete topped with asphalt
layers, and poured new concrete, while raising the runway
elevations by about 18 inches. "It made the difference,"
he says. "The runways stayed dry."
Rows of concrete-and-timber pilings were driven to varying
depths around an area where an unused 24-ft-wide tunnel crossed
beneath one 150-ft-wide runway. The pilings are intended to
prevent large humps in the runway caused by settlement around
the edges of the tunnel. Rodriguez could not give more specific
dimensions because his plans and drawings were sitting in
the office in New Orleans.
Navigational aids on the runways are damaged, and the Federal
Aviation Administration "is working feverishly"
to restore them. In the meantime, military pilots flying relief
aircraft are landing visually. Powered by emergency generators,
the terminal housed some 800 refugees Thursday, Rodriguez
estimated. The mostly wind-caused damages to the terminal
will cost at least $40 million, he says. "It's like dumping
a car in wateryou don't know what's damaged until you
start the ignition," he says. "We will need to look
through the entire system."
Had the airport not completed its runway work in time, Rodriguez
doubts that the runways would have been able to handle heavy
aircraft loaded with supplies. "The pavement probably
would've unraveled," he says. As it is, a skeleton crew
led by airport director Williams is working with relief crews
despite many of them having lost homes and possibly family
It was still unclear Friday as to when the airport damage
assessment could begin and when the airport will reopen to
commercial traffic. Rodriguez on Sept. 1 emailed an airport
peer review group, run by DMJM+Harris aviation director William
Fife, to ask if any airport has been successful in procuring
from FAA funds to cover loss of revenue due to airport closures
and the resulting time it takes to get traffic back up to
normal levels. He says he received a slew of responses that
he will be sifting through.
The New Orleans Aviation Board in July had formally halted
a $5-million study at Louis Armstrong International Airport
after an airport consultant suggested building a new airport
in the Bonnet Carré Spillway or in eastern New Orleans
so that city officials could decide what to do. Now plans
for that and a proposed refurbishment of the terminal will
be on hold indefinitely.
Cho, Engineering News-Record