Burns Engineering: John F. Kennedy International Airport, Runway 4R-22L airfield ground lighting and electrical distribution replacement

Automation, controls; electrical, power; lighting; airfield ground lighting; navigational aids; communication systems.

By Burns Engineering Inc. August 11, 2016

Engineering firm: Burns Engineering Inc.

2016 MEP Giants rank: 55

Project: John F. Kennedy International Airport, Runway 4R-22L airfield ground lighting and electrical distribution replacement

Location: New York City Building type: Utilities/public works/transportation; airport

Project type: System overhaul (e.g., mechanical system upgrade, fire protection system overhaul, etc.)

Engineering services: Automation, controls; electrical, power; lighting; airfield ground lighting; navigational aids; communication systems

Project timeline: April 2015 to July 2016

MEP/FP budget: $755,000


John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), located in New York City, is the busiest international air-passenger gateway into the U.S., handling more than 56 million passengers a year. More than 70 airlines operate out of this facility.

This volume of air traffic and passenger travel relies on the ability of flights to depart and arrive in all varieties of visibility and weather conditions, as well as guide the navigation of hundreds of aircraft that are simultaneously taxiing on the JFK airfield. Runway 4R-22L is 8,400 ft long by 200 ft wide. It is equipped with Category IIIB instrument landing system (ILS) technologies that assist pilots with their approach in visibility as low as 0 ft. However, after 45 years of service, the airfield infrastructure has reached the end of its useful life.

Burns Engineering Inc. is the prime engineering consultant for the planning, analysis, design, and construction phase services for the electrical portions of the rehabilitation of Runway 4R-22L. Burns implements the technologies that enable safe taxiing and flight during inclement weather with low visibility and low light levels.

Technical challenges:

  1. Improve reliability and redundancy of lighting system
  2. Isolate electrical infrastructure from latent water damage
  3. Plan systems that can better withstand the presence of brackish water within the infrastructure
  4. Incorporate light-base installations that resist deformation caused by the forces of heavy aircraft loads on cross runways and high-speed exits
  5. Adapt the design in progress to client’s "lessons learned" from concurrent construction project
  6. Simultaneously design immediate replacement for fixtures exhibiting failure while designing complete system replacement
  7. Maintain full airport operations
  8. Identify steps to expedite schedule and avoid slip.


As part of the $85 million construction project, which extensively revises the east airfield area of JFK, Burns plays a key role in the design and implementation of visual and electronic navigational aid systems and technologies.

Solutions to the challenges presented by the project include:

  1. Improve system redundancy and reliability: Design of every critical component of airfield ground lighting that allows pilots to navigate the airfield, depart, and arrive: edge lighting, centerline lighting, touchdown zone lighting, approach lighting system with sequenced flashing lights (ALSF-2), precision approach path indicators (PAPIs), runway visual ranges (RVRs), distance measuring equipment(DME), taxi guidance signs, runway guard bar lighting, mandatory and "distance remaining" signs. Burns designed the high-intensity runway edge lighting at 100-ft spacing, which is double the standard spacing for edge lights. The added lighting improves the redundancy of the most important airfield ground-lighting system.
  2. Protect electrical infrastructure: Burns developed a design for electrical system drainage, which will extend system life and reduce maintenance costs. The design details how to maintain integrity of the 123 miles of electrical cabling that powers the series-circuit lighting.
  3. Withstand brackish water: Burns collaborated with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to develop a new airfield lighting standard. The L-823 Connector Installation now includes "super kits," tape, and cold-shrink application to create a watertight installation.
  4. Withstand deformation: Burns designed a larger-than-standard concrete encasement and specified a longer installation and cure time during an extended runway closure. These solutions lead to a more robust installation with a higher level of quality.
  5. Adapt to client’s lessons learned: Burns adjusted our design in progress and approach in real time to accommodate the lessons learned by the client during a concurrent, similar runway construction project. Lessons learned included realistic construction goals, improved security measures, and understanding contractor capacity limitations.
  6. Simultaneous design of urgent replacement and final replacement: Burns employed two teams, a rapid-replacement team and a base bid team, to achieve both goals simultaneously.
  7. Maintain operations: A unique two-stage runway closure is being employed. In the first phase, much of the infrastructure is being replaced, allowing the reopening of the runway for the busy summer months. The second closure allows the proper time for final pavement placement, grooving, marking, and photometric testing.
  8. Reduce risk of schedule slip: Burns collaborated with the client to prepurchase all electrical materials prior to the contractor receiving notice to proceed.