GIS: A Strategic Component of Extensive Modernization at LAX

Century Boulevard runs as straight as an arrow through a 10-mile stretch of south Los Angeles before terminating at the horseshoe-shaped Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) terminal complex. Despite seemingly easy access from this major LA thoroughfare and the city’s widespread freeway network, congested vehicular traffic has plagued the airport for many years.

With 4 million people living in the city and the automobile as the preferred method of transportation, traffic congestion in and around LAX is an accepted nuisance—particularly when considering that it is the world’s fifth-busiest airport for passenger traffic, having served more than 84 million people in 2017.

Incremental improvements to the airport and the transportation network that serves it have failed to keep up with its growth over the years. But in 2010, a major capital improvement plan, known as the LAX Development Program, was implemented. The $15 billion project is being constructed in three phases and will be completed in 2028. It is the largest public works initiative in Los Angeles history. And it is leveraging GIS strategically, not only to streamline the workflows of multiple construction projects but also to ensure that 24-hour-a-day airport operations proceed smoothly.

A 3D mesh of the runway
This 3D mesh of LAX’s runway 6L24R—built with a 3D viewer—shows a terrain view of the Obstruction Identification Surfaces (OIS) dataset, which better reveals its structure.

Managing This Multiyear Capital Improvement Plan

Major upgrades coming to LAX include significant terminal renovations, a midfield satellite terminal concourse, and a new central terminal area that will consist of streamlined passenger processing, updated utility plants, an intermodal transportation facility, an automated people mover system, and a consolidated rental car center.

“Right now, we have about 130 different projects going on at the airport and anticipate another 80 to 90 in the future,” said Don Chinery, the program controls manager for Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA). This ranges from a new terminal to improving a tenant facility within a terminal.

All projects included in this capital improvement plan must be carefully managed so that one doesn’t interfere with another or severely impact operations. For example, when Delta Airlines moved to a different terminal in 2017 as part of the redevelopment program, it caused several other airlines to move as well. This had to be carefully orchestrated to minimize passenger and staff disruptions because airport operations obviously can’t be shut down at LAX, which handles more than 1,500 takeoffs and landings every day, according to Chinery.

“We used GIS to manage the Delta move for space and time coordination,” he said. “For example, if we shut down an elevator at a certain location, what else is going to be impacted at that location because of the shutdown? How can the passengers get through a certain route that is also under construction at the same time? GIS is a critical part of our logistics management.”

Central to managing the multiple construction projects at the airport is Coordination and Logistics Management (CALM), a Microsoft SharePoint-based GIS integrated with Oracle’s Primavera P6 solution for project management. Collected data is made available for review to internal stakeholders through OpenText, an enterprise information management software. The system currently maintains more than 500,000 documents.

“We’ve built an integrated process that we call ETL—extract, transform, and load,” said Chinery. It is essentially a script that runs in Microsoft SQL Server. It pulls data from the P6 application on a nightly basis and populates an ArcGIS geodatabase with that data.

“Because of the large number of projects we are involved in at any one time, CALM also represents our mission statement: ‘Minimizing construction-related impacts to passengers and tenants while maintaining a positive guest experience,’” said Chinery. “We use SharePoint for internal document management because it is a versatile and secure platform. The system manages all of our scheduling and locational information and tracks all of the projects from planning through design and construction. It also maintains the coordination and logistical schedule for our projects, which we publish monthly.”

ArcGIS Pro
Staff in the GIS support services division use ArcGIS Pro to create 3D models of indoor construction projects in the airport complex, including ticketing areas, public lobbies, passageways, and baggage areas.

The CALM GIS development team also built an interactive mapping app, called CALMShare, that shows the locations of all LAX projects—including those that are currently active and ones that are planned for the future—to reveal any time and space conflicts among those projects. Pulling all this data from CALM’s geodatabase, the app also provides maps for logistical coordination.

“The contractors don’t have access to [any sensitive information], but prior to construction, each is required to submit a phasing plan,” said Chinery. “This indicates where they’ll be working and at what time. Throughout the phases of the project, they are required to continue to update that information with us. They also submit a site logistics plan that specifies details about their work site and how they are getting to it. What roadways are they using? Where is their laydown area to store the materials they will be using for construction? How are they getting onto the airfields? Where are they parking? Where is their project management office? So all that information from the contractor is vetted by my team and then put into our CALM system.”

Modeling Proposed Construction Projects and Environmental Concerns

Before these projects even began, LAWA relied on a large stack of ArcGIS software within its Airport Enterprise GIS (AEGIS), including ArcGIS Desktop, ArcGIS Server, Portal for ArcGIS, ArcGIS Online, Web AppBuilder for ArcGIS, ArcScene, and the ArcGIS maps used with SharePoint. Now, with the LAX Development Program in full swing, LAWA’s GIS support services division has begun experimenting with a 3D interactive modeling simulator.

Using ArcGIS Pro, staff in the GIS support services division can create 3D models of indoor construction projects in the airport complex. These scenes include ticketing areas, public lobbies, passageways, and baggage areas, as well as the locations of defibrillators and fire extinguishers. The model can provide multiple vantage points, including bird’s-eye, ortho, and perspective views, so projects can be fully examined.

“The 3D modeling simulator allows us to provide construction and airport management with images that can be quickly understood and modified for further review, if necessary,” said Abdel Khineche, GIS supervisor II at LAWA. “Another important use of our AEGIS is to create Airfield Imaginary Surface Areas using the ArcGIS for Aviation: Airports extension. They represent the hypothetical surfaces above and around an airfield where there are height restrictions that prohibit obstructions to navigable space and are a requirement of the Federal Aviation Administration.”

ArcGIS for Aviation: Airports
At Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), the GIS support and services division uses the ArcGIS for Aviation: Airports extension to create Airfield Imaginary Surface Areas, which show approach zones, transition zones, primary zones, and more, to help the airport determine how high it can build things without causing airspace obstructions.

These surfaces include approach zones, transition zones, primary zones (which are centered on the runway), horizontal zones (a plane 150 feet above the established airport elevation), and conical zones (which extend up and out from the outer limits of the horizontal zones). They are described by specific heights, width, length, and slopes.

“The models are based on each runway specification and built on criteria specific to the type of airport (civil, military, etc.), as well as the visibility conditions and the type of equipment in place at that airport,” explained Khineche. “The generated surfaces are superimposed over potential ground obstacles that might interfere with flight paths and usually extend far beyond the airport boundaries. For the runways at LAX, we use the precision instrument [runway] approach criteria that is specified by our airfield team.”

Recently, LAWA needed to place an 80-foot-high antenna in the airfield area of LAX and do it on very short notice.

“The chief airport engineer at LAX wanted to quickly determine if the antenna would interfere with the path of an approaching aircraft,” continued Khineche. “I calculated that the height of the surface area at the proposed location of the antenna was 210 feet, which permitted the construction of the antenna without interference of any aircraft flight path.”

The workflow LAWA has developed using P6 along with ArcGIS and SharePoint ensures that LAWA, its airport planning and development group, the construction inspection division, project teams, contractors, tenants, and other stakeholders can communicate efficiently and accurately.

“Because the information is updated daily and is easily accessible, it has been particularly useful in the weekly executive capital strategy meetings,” said Chinery. “In addition, the system improves coordination and planning throughout the entire LAX Development Program by resolving potential construction conflicts early in the process, which eliminates expensive redesign.”