JFK Redevelopment: An Inside Look with Nick Hutchinson of Arcadis

JFK Redevelopment: An Inside Look with Nick Hutchinson of Arcadis

DALLAS — New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), a primary entry point into the United States for many, is currently under the sway of the JFK Vision Plan, a massive redevelopment project designed to modernize the airport and further position it as a global air transport hub for the 21st century.

Arcadis, a global organization focused on consulting and design, played an integral role in coordinating construction projects in line with the JFK Vision Plan, with a particular focus on the refurbishment of Terminal 8 and the development of New Terminal One.

In an exclusive interview, Arcadis Global Airports Solutions Director Nick Hutchinson gave Airways an inside look not only at the JFK redevelopment process but also at the implications it holds for the future of airport development.

Hutchinson leverages extensive global airport experience in his role at Arcadis, having previously worked in supervisory roles at major projects from the development of Incheon International Airport (ICN) in South Korea to that of the new Doha International Airport (DOH) in Qatar.

Nick Hutchinson. Photo: Arcadis

Brent Foster (BF): How will the JFK Vision Plan position the airport to capture and sustain long-term passenger growth?

Nick Hutchinson (NH): “I think one of the most significant factors is the fact that New York City happens to be a geographic gateway to North America. It also happens to be the gateway to New York City itself, which is a destination for tourists and business travel and a destination for worldwide events. So there are all sorts of these natural attributes that make JFK that natural selection, and again, it was a little tired and really needed a spruce up.

I think the model that the Port Authority is utilizing to sort of create this investment into the airport is really inspirational. What they are doing, the Port Authority really owns the physical asset, they own and operate the airport. Through a PPP model, public-private partnerships, they’re putting out the concessions for the different terminals doing 30-year to 50-year deals. Sometimes it is the private sector, and this is the secret sauce, the private sector comes in to build and develop these facilities with a focus on customer satisfaction, and on attracting passengers to come through JFK.

This will make the difference, and retain the long-term commitment of both the passengers and the airlines. The last factor is the fact that the airport will be an international transport hub, so not everybody will have their final destination as New York City. Taking some tips from connecting hubs in the Middle East.

Naturally, New York becomes a transfer hub bringing the European and further afield markets into North America. Passengers take a breath in New York, and this is very important as these terminals develop and the facilities around them develop, that when you take a breath before you get on your next flight you want a really nice experience. You want hotels, shopping, entertainment, and all sorts of things. Singapore’s Changi is a superb example of that, the Jewel at Changi.”

As a design and consulting firm with a global footprint, how does Arcadis effectively leverage experience from prior airport projects into its work on the JFK Vision Plan?

We are an interesting firm, we have been around a long time, 130 years. We have acquired a lot of companies, and we’re now 36,000 people strong, so we’ve got lots and lots of resources, skill sets, and capabilities. That is important because airports are cities in their own right.

In fact, they’re more complex than cities because of the security environment, because they’ve got runways and air traffic control. So they’re very, very complex environments and it is important to have the critical mass to be able to service them properly. We bring an array of services from front-end advisory, master planning, and design for all the different types of assets that you get there.

We’re a big player in the environmental scene so we understand the environmental consequences of airports. That is one of our main plays and it really is a lot of what we do at JFK. Finally, we have asset management and operations. This broad array of services is underpinned by our technical skill sets.

Our firm understands geotechnical, and civil engineering projects which I call horizontal like the aerodrome along with vertical projects like buildings, we have got an architectural practice. So you are bringing the Rubik’s cube of skill sets together with all of those global projects and it really perfectly positions us to support not only JFK but airport customers everywhere.

Beyond additional space, what operational and passenger experience advantages can JFK gain from the expansion of Terminal 8?

I think the foremost thing you do when you do a redevelopment project is to revisit your CONOPS, or concept of operations. The original terminals were very old and completely outdated. There was a very old-fashioned approach to customer management and aircraft operations on the apron. So this has all been completely modernized.

There is a brand new CONOPS, what you start with when you begin an airport project. We conceptually thought about how we wanted to run and operate this. Again, because our business is plugged into airports across the spectrum we were able to bring in ideas from Hong Kong. Western Sydney is probably the newest airport under construction right now. Every airport is a benchmarking exercise and a learning exercise.

We’re bringing all of this back to JFK now. So first of all, we have put together this CONOPS. From that, we developed our operational procedures. How are you actually going to do business with that airport? That translates into, for the airlines, aircraft operating efficiently with fast turnarounds.

Conversely, with their customers, the passengers, how do you get them out of their cars? How do you get them out of the train and through the whole process into the airport and then make that experience fabulous?

The big emphasis is on facilities and lounges for passengers, which is really the big bonus at JFK. Historically, JFK was not a fun place to spend the afternoon at.” 

Terminal 8 headhouse expansion for British Airways operations. Photo: Arcadis

How has Arcadis collaborated with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) and other stakeholders in the expansion of Terminal 8?

One of the core requirements, when you build a new project at an airport, is stakeholder management. And that is the coordination of the multitude of interested parties within a project.

You can say that you can start with your direct client, which is the Port Authority as the owner of the fundamental asset. However, there is a lot in play with the regulators, particularly the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Then you are dealing with the utility companies, the suppliers of electricity, communications, wastewater, and security. You are working with the police department external to and within the airport along with border security and control. So there are all of these different entities and everybody wants something done in their particular way. That is one of the critical roles that we fulfill.

We take on the role of a facilitator to coordinate the needs and requirements of all these different players, many of them are conflicting so you have to resolve those conflicts by just rolling up your sleeves and having lots of meetings. You have to continuously come back to and refresh the design, what is important nowadays is that we are not doing our designs on paper drawings anymore but rather on computer models.

We set up what we call BIM or a building information model, a set of theaters in a control room with a big video wall where we can walk through the design with virtually all of the stakeholders together. This allows us to make changes on the fly, we can move the model around, move the wall in and out, change the locations of checkpoints, and adjust for fire department regulations.

Also, because it was a modernization project, you have to think for the passengers and crew as well. They are going to continue the operations through the redevelopment of the terminal building.

So you have to maintain the level of service, there is an ASQ, American Society for Quality, the score that determines the quality of service that you are providing to the passengers. That has to be maintained all of the time, even though you are bearing down components of the building, you are doing work outside at the curb while people are coming in.

All of these things are being balanced and we play a critical role in looking forward and planning. Let’s say we need to shut an area down, we think about where the passengers are going to flow, where are we going to do the security checks, where we move the bags, and so you have got that dynamic all of the time. So we were utilizing technology to visualize all aspects of the construction process while allowing passengers to utilize the terminal.

New gate 18. Photo: Arcadis

Did Arcadis encounter any obstacles that necessitated innovation to be effectively overcome amid the expansion of Terminal 8?

One obstacle comes to mind, and that would be COVID, of course, which was a huge disruptor. Really, and this is kudos to the Port Authority, even with the requirements and restrictions, we developed new procedures to enable the project to continue. Safety management is extraordinarily important for health and safety on any given project, and traditionally, that means preventing slips and falls and making sure people are not injured during construction.

Then, you have to wrap in the public health aspect that comes with that and then COVID comes along. We amended all of our procedures to basically incorporate the new standards, essentially people getting their vaccinations, wearing masks and the appropriate protective wear, maintaining distancing, etc. All of these things were put in place and really, amazingly quickly, work continued. People were able to work from home but of course, the workforce themselves were on site.

Our job as a manager on these projects is to look ahead and anticipate problems. If you let the problem happen and catch up with you, you really have not been proactive as a project manager. So, we use a myriad of techniques to do that. I would say primarily that it is about risk management when you brainstorm with all of the stakeholders in a room with a specific focus on risk.

You ask what could potentially happen that could slow down the project, get in our way, suspend delivery, and impact customers. If you are diligent enough about that process, you identify the risks and then put mitigation strategies together. If you believe that factors from bad weather to vehicle crash risks exist, you mitigate all of those things.

The supply chain, or the delivery of materials, is extremely important. Really, only about 20% of the work you actually see happens on-site. Everyone thinks of construction, they think, “Well, look at that big project being built.”

The vast majority of that activity takes place before the material ever gets to the project site. So it is in the design processes, preparing the shop drawings, it is the procurement of all the raw materials, it is delivery of those raw materials from the global marketplace to local fabricators, it is fabrication into the components, and it is shipment of those components to the job site.

What you are really doing at the job site is coordinating and conducting on-time deliveries for those components so they can be lifted with the sophisticated craning equipment and the like and popped in place and connected. That is what you’re really supposed to do on a construction site. Again, these are the sort of techniques and steps that were taken in delivering this project.

One other major factor is commissioning the project. So once you have assembled everything, you have to energize the project with electrical power. You are switching on all of the systems and activating all of the interconnected database systems. Every sensor in the building has tens of thousands of centers or points that are basically brought back to computers in the main control room with the video walls.

Every one of those censors has to be interconnected, it has to be integrated between baggage-handling systems, fire management systems, alarm systems, security systems, lighting systems, and door control systems. For example, if there is fire or smoke in the facility all sorts of doors need to be opened and all sorts of conveyance and baggage handling systems need to be stopped. All of that needs to be tested.

So it is pre-planning in the commissioning process, again doing it in a virtual environment so you understand everything that’s going to happen. So that’s what we did. We pre-planned everything, we used a risk-based strategy, and we modeled everything in 3D and 4D.

4D means by the way that you do basically an animation of the virtual models so you can see the components within them and the sequence of commissioning. Commissioning is very interesting, you start with one light and then it goes to a loop of lights, then it goes back to a room, and then it goes back to a zone and then it goes back to the building.

There are all of these steps and again you want to do them in a virtual environment first so you can control the outcome.

How is Arcadis getting all of the construction material to JFK without disrupting airport traffic?

We set up a barging system. It just so happens that JFK is close to the sea, and we worked with contractors and suppliers, but essentially most of the heavy materials and components were brought in on a barge. We craned them off, and so we were able to manage it locally, which relieved congestion, as if the traffic around JFK is not congested enough, right?

So that was sort of a major, major contributor to managing the efficiency. This project was delivered on time and on budget by the way. Again, managing that supply chain so you are bringing in the right materials at the right time is important because if you bring in materials ahead of when you need them, you’ve got to store them on site.”

New premium check-in for American Airlines and British Airway. Photo: Arcadis

How is Arcadis contributing to the development of the New Terminal One project at JFK International Airport?

We are quite involved with the New Terminal One now. In that regard, we have different customers, so we are working for Ferrovial. We are a technical advisor to Ferrovial in that regard. They have a 50-year lease now, and Ferrovial will operate and oversee the construction.

The construction is being completed in cooperation with Tishman and Gensler is doing the design. We are plugged in with Ferrovial Airports, who will be the operator. So at this point, again, going back to the CONOPS, we advise them.

Right from the beginning we actually advised them, when they were considering their investment we actually helped them in that investment decision-making process. Then, when we sort of passed that milestone and after they sort of locked and loaded with the stake in the project we joined them on a technical advisory role with CONOPS. So we’re constantly reviewing the operation of the facility, asking ourselves “is it going to operate efficiently?”

By the way, the target for the building is to be a Top 5 Skytrax airport terminal globally. That is a big stretch, a high bar, for an airport. Right now it is Doha, which is one of my own projects from the past, so Doha is a hard one to beat. Changi has had it for many years. Those cities tend to benefit a lot from a workforce that is much lower in terms of cost.

The problem for New York will be affordability for a workforce that can do a lot of services, customer service tasks, and even maintenance tasks as well. You need a lot of people polishing the Doha and Changi airports so they are gleaming, shiny, and beautiful.

And also the requirements for border control are slightly different, America has very stringent border control policies and procedures. They are not changing those so it just seems to me to be an easier process to get through the border control.

There is a big emphasis on technology, on the systems that they’re going to use. Again, it is going to be biometrics and touchless technologies. Essentially, the idea is to get the customer from their home and onto their aircraft without touching anything or speaking to anyone.

Also, with the baggage-handling system, we are deeply involved with the decision-making. I think it is Vanderlande that will be supplying the equipment out of Holland. We have a lot of experience with Vanderlande and so we are reviewing the design, we recommend changes to sort of link them with the operational requirements of the facility.” 

How will the terminal redevelopment and expansion associated with the JFK Vision Plan impact infrastructure longevity at JFK International Airport? Are the terminals well-positioned to accommodate long-term maintenance?

Again, I think one of the fabulous things that the Port Authority has done is the use of the PPP model. So they’re dishing out 50-year concessions. At the end of those concessions, the Port Authority receives back that facility totally maintained, totally operational, and totally ready to use.

With the contractual methodology, they have already basically built-in incentives that will ensure the maintenance and upkeep of the facilities. So in 50 years, they’re going back.

I know that they are implementing best-in-class asset management. It is a requirement from the Port Authority but also in the interests of the different concessionaires regardless of the terminal. They follow the International Organization for Standardization 55000 ISO for asset management.

Again, that is a protocol and a process that assures that you consider all aspects of maintaining that facility. It is about dealing with weekly maintenance, it is about upgrades, it is about replacement parts, and risk management so you’re looking at critical risk items. For example, “if this pump shuts down, does that stop the airport from operating?”

All of these are wrapped into the procedures that oversee maintenance at the facility. Again, there is a big emphasis on digital tools, using building models. We coordinate the handoff of the as-built model from a contractor that then goes to the asset management people. There are all sorts of information and data in there.

They know every part of the building, they know when it needs to be maintained, when it needs to be replaced, and so on and so forth. That is all in the form of digital information. Then, what you can do is utilize other software techniques and tools where you can overlay the cost of replacement, and the risk breakdown, and essentially do analytics that provides a predictive model that tells you exactly when you need to spend money to keep the maintenance play going.

It is quite a sophisticated process but I know that is in place for all of the facilities at JFK including Terminal One.

Can airport management software be updated easily if necessary?

My own personal opinion is that software is only as good as it is today because tomorrow something else will come along and surely be better. The really important thing is not so much the software as it is the data and the structuring of the data so that it is reusable.

Whichever software you plug in, whichever advancement there is, and there will absolutely be advancements, the raw material, and data that you create and the handover with the facility is crucial.

20 years ago, if you got a new building, you would be handed paper drawings and told “good luck.” When you hand over a building today, you get a digital twin or a virtual model, and for every component in that model, there is a whole laundry list of information and data about it, statistical analysis, and all sorts of things.

Those data are very carefully structured, it is structured with an asset breakdown structure, it is structured in alignment with how the project was delivered (the work breakdown structure), and it is structured in accordance with its costs so the commercial breakdown structure. So when you come along with a new piece of software in five years’ time, not a problem, it is all ready to go because we have put the plan in place now.

So all of that data, we have got requirements in the designers’ and contractors’ contracts that assure that when the data is handed over, it goes through a quality-assurance process. The data has been quality-assured never mind the building, never mind the solid, physical structure that you get. All of the information is quality-assured and will be there for all of eternity.

New hold room for gates 18 and 20. Photo: Arcadis

How is Arcadis working to incorporate sustainable practices into terminal redevelopment and expansion associated with the JFK Vision Plan?

Sustainability is at our core at Arcadis, that is who we are, and again, it comes from our ancestor Dutch company that began reclaiming land from the sea to basically build Amsterdam and Holland for that matter. Management of the environment was totally interwoven with that process, so here we are—fast-forward to today.

These days, it is not just about environmental aspects it is also about ESGs, so its environmental, social, and governance metrics. ESG is about sustainability goals, there are 17 of them, and they are published via the U.N. I believe. We weave all of those sustainability goals into everything that we do.

There are a few neat factors in this project. It is all about ensuring that we are conservative with our resource usage, we’re obtaining water, we’re obtaining energy, and we’re not wasting it so that all of the equipment is very efficient. Of course, we’re LEED-certified so the facilities are meeting LEED standards. We’re not polluting so we’re managing carbon. It will get better, it is not perfectly managed yet but as an example, we used a high fly ash concrete mix which significantly reduces the carbon footprint of all of the concrete that is used at the airport.

We focus on all of the materials that are used in the building process. Everything that you see in the structure and the envelope of the building, from the roof to the apron, in terms of materials, centers around recycling. So it is the ability to reuse the materials in the long term so we are not wasting them again. Even the old concrete that we dug up because we’re working in a brownfield site full of contamination was crushed and then reused as fill.

All of those contaminants were controlled and replaced so that contamination does not spread elsewhere. That is the core of our practice, sustainability. The future will be that any new project in an airport, the airport in its entire operation will not have an impact on the environment. Even the fueling of aircraft will move from the current fossil fuels into sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) and then ultimately I believe it will be clean, blue hydrogen as the fuel of the future for aircraft.

The energy for JFK’s New Terminal One is energy as a service, which is fabulous, and Schneider Electric got together with the Carlyle Group. They are basically supplying clean energy to New Terminal One.

What they do is install clean energy equipment, so it is photovoltaic arrays across the entire roof. They are using the sun’s energy to create electricity. They’ve also got clean gas cogeneration plants, so they’re using naturally-occurring methane gas rather than fossil-based gas to generate electrical power, and they’re storing that electrical power in fuel cells or battery plants essentially so that they can use a microgrid system to control the energy utilization.

Microgrids optimize the use of energy, they direct the energy to where it is needed because currently, energy is just an incredible waste. This microgrid really optimizes the use of energy. It stores it when it is not being used in the battery cells and then it is available of course when there is demand like first thing in the morning conceptually as the airport ramps back up into operation.

This airport is going to be a world-class example of energy as a service, there will be no more diesel fumes in and around the airport, and all vehicles will be electrically powered, clean, and electrical power for everything. A lot of that energy will actually be harvested in the airport environment itself.

New gate 20. Photo: Arcadis

How will the airport fueling infrastructure be able to adapt to new fuel types going forward?

Although I am not an expert in that field, fundamentally, I think you will be able to modify it without too much extra work for the SAs, but when it comes to hydrogen, that is a whole new science. I believe the whole idea is to be able to manufacture the hydrogen on-site. That is a whole new plant in and of itself. All is not yet determined; it is brand new science.

Could optimizations implemented in the JFK Vision Plan potentially play a role in future airport projects that Arcadis undertakes?

Every airport we work on is a learning experience, and we calculate the lessons learned from our projects. T8 was a great success, actually. I am going to lay out a lot of the practices that we used to supervise T8; it is modeling everything in advance and using 4D so you can understand how you are going to construct it, and organize the supply chain.

Of course, JFK is holistically using all of the state-of-the-art technology in terms of passenger processing, baggage handling, and ground service equipment. Again, it is safer, better, and cleaner, and again all of these are fabulous lessons learned for us working with all of the fabulous stakeholders.

Likewise, we designed the airfield for example at Western Sydney so we bring all of the lessons learned from that project, which is still being completed, into the new projects that we are doing at JFK. Similarly, we opened Santiago last year and we just finished the design on Guadalajara. A few lessons were learned at Schiphol, where that concourse project didn’t go the way it was supposed to. Again, we harness all of that information and bring that to bear on our projects.

I think we’ve been continuing to weave sustainability into everything that we do, looking for LEED certification at the highest levels. The recycling of material is extremely important so that ultimately the projects you deliver have zero impact on the environment and they’re all economically empowering, in terms of wealth and well-being creation, for the people in communities around the airport.

First British Airways aircraft to depart out of the revamped terminal 8. Photo: Arcadis

In terms of infrastructure, what are the major challenges and opportunities Arcadis foresees for the future of 21st-century commercial air travel?

The first is to get rid of the carbon problem. The airport itself is not so much the problem as the fuel burned by the aircraft, and there has been a lot of research. I think this will come sooner than later. Actually, I am quite excited about that prospect. The transition to clean energy for the airport, reusable materials, and then creating a great atmosphere for passengers and employees so that everybody working at the airport as well as experiencing the airport is in an environment that is really conducive to well-being. 

I also want to discuss a vision of what airports will be in the future. They will transition from being standalone nodes in a transportation network to multimodal hubs. If you sort of look out there 30 to 40 years in the future, what is the world going to look like? It is going to be these urban centers, these great, modernized smart cities.

Then there will be a transportation or a mobility network within the city that ultimately has to come to a point where it can interconnect with other cities. That will be partly by high-speed rail system but for the longer range, it is ultimately the airport.

Due to the amount of land mass required by an airport, it is going to be on the outskirts of the city, so they are going to de facto become the center for a multimodal operation. Great examples right now are Oslo, where you have that fabulous express train come and you get on the train from Oslo, it brings you out there, and you are right underneath the airport. You go up the escalator, and bang, you’re there. The same at Schiphol and Hong Kong.

Even more advanced is Istanbul Airport, where the bus center goes underneath the terminal building, Arcadis built those bus tunnels. Possibly, Istanbul is the best example of that multimodal concept because, at ground level and above ground, you have the airport and all that goes with that. Then, below ground, you’re bringing in all these different modes of transportation, including light rail, heavy rail, and roadway, and then, sort of on the periphery area, you are going to have drone traffic.

Certainly over at the cargo handling, you are going to have drones for the last-mile distribution of packaging. Then, the downtown taxi service if you don’t have the patience to take the metro system out to the airport or other shared mechanisms, even autonomous vehicles.

Conceptually, there is also a lot of discussion on eVTOL, electric vehicle takeoff and landing, and again that is another area that Arcadis is really trying to get involved with is planning drone networks along with the infrastructure to support them.

Coming back to airports, they become multimodal hubs associated with these smart cities and urban centers and they are networked all around the world. I think you will find that all of these small, regional airports will really change. They will no longer be long runways and they will be more oriented towards the vertical takeoff and landings that bring more efficiency and clean energy into play.

I think there is so much to do in this multimodal sector, mobility is a service so that people can actually curate their entire journey in one place or one mobile application, and off you go with everything from money to hotels, restaurants, and shows pre-packaged for you. It curates a travel experience all the way from door to door.

Thank you, Mr. Hutchinson, for sharing your time and insights with Airways

Featured image: British at New Gate 20. Photo: Arcadis

Aviation journalist and Daily Caller contributor who counts playing and teaching golf among his many hobbies. Contact: brent@airwaysmag.com

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