Although Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport (FLL) is a mere 21 miles north of its huge cousin, Miami International Airport (MIA), it’s worlds apart in its focus and business model. FLL is a hub for low-cost carriers (LCCs) and ultra-low-cost carriers (ULCCs), and funnels passengers to nearby Port Everglades, one of the busiest cruise ship terminals in the world. In 2014, FLL saw almost 25 million passengers use its facilities, led by ULCCs and LCCs Allegiant, JetBlue, Southwest, Virgin America, and Spirit, which is based at FLL.
Trans-Atlantic LCC, Norwegian Air Shuttle, also serves FLL with Boeing 787s. A number of U.S., Canadian, and Latin American airlines also provide non-stop scheduled service to FLL, along with seasonal charter carriers.
“We complement MIA,” says Allan Siegel, FLL’s Community Outreach Coordinator. “But our landing fees are lower, so our airlines are saving significant costs. That makes us attractive to the LCCs, and in 2014, LCCs handled 62% of our total traffic.” The airport’s traffic has grown steadily, up 25% in 10 years, but that growth led to capacity issues, driven by FLL’s configuration.
The airport is on a relatively small chunk of land, at least for an airport. It’s hemmed in on all sides by highways, a railway, and a residential area. The original runway layout had the longest runway, 9,000 foot 09R/27R to the north of the passenger terminals. Parallel runway 09R/27L, along the south side of the airport, was only 5,300 feet long; too short for airline operations. The two runways were intersected by crosswind runway, 13/31, which was under 7,000 feet long. That configuration effectively turned FLL into a single-runway operation, with virtually all airline operations using 09L/27R. The maximum capacity was 84 operations per hour.
With traffic growth continuing, the FAA estimated that the average flight delay would be 24 minutes, if nothing changed at FLL. “We wanted to keeps delays to a minimum. So the decision was made to rebuild and extend the southern parallel runway to 8,000 feet, which would handle the majority of the airlines’ fleets in the coming years,” says Siegel.
With the western threshold of the new runway remaining in the same place as the old threshold, the new, half-mile eastern extension needed some remarkable engineering. The new runway intersected with the existing north-south highway and railway. Re-routing or burying the road and rail corridor wasn’t an option. Instead, the runway goes over the corridor. A huge, 60-foot high, 6.5 million-yard earthen embankment was created on either side of the highway and railway. Directly over the corridor, massive runway and taxiway support structures were built.
The structures used over 2,600 two-foot wide concrete piles, almost 70,000 cubic yards of concrete, and at 15.5-inches thick, the runway deck can handle the landing impact of a fully-loaded Airbus A380 or Boeing 747-8. The old portion of the runway was completely rebuilt to the strength standards of the new section, and the new runway has an average grade of 1% along its 8,000-foot length. The western threshold is at ten feet above sea level, while the eastern threshold sits on the new embankment, at 60 feet ASL.
The project began in early 2012, and included the decommissioning of the crosswind runway; new, changed, and closed taxiways; and a new “Zulu” ramp area just north of the new runway. To help ensure safety in the case of an aircraft overrun, an Engineered Materials Arrestor System (EMAS) is installed at each end of FLL’s runways. The EMAS is made of crushable material that slows an aircraft, similar to a “runaway lane” for trucks.
Since it was located in the new “runway protection area,” the Hilton hotel adjacent to the airport was purchased by FLL, and then demolished. And recognizing the noise impact that the new runway will have on the nearby residential area, FLL has created a Noise Mitigation Sound Insulation program for the over 2,000 units that are affected.
The new runway and taxiways opened in September 2014, and according to FLL’s Alan Siegel, “our airlines are happy. Taxi times are reduced, and the airfield’s capacity is now 107 operations per hour. Flights operating from Terminal 3 and 4 use the new south runway, and those to Europe continue to use the north runway, taking advantage of the extra 1,000 feet of length.” Reflecting the normal movement of the magnetic north pole, FLL’s runways were re-numbered as 10L/28R and 10R/28L, in Fall 2014.
With the runway project complete, improvements are now being made to FLL’s terminals. All four terminals are scheduled for renovation. Terminal 1 will get a new, five-gate Concourse A, and Terminal 4 will be extensively redeveloped and expanded. By the time construction is completed in 2017, FLL will have 66 gates, up nine from the current 57. The overall cost for the runway and terminal project is $2.3 billion, funded by grants, many levels of government and agency contributions, and passenger charges.