At JFK airport, using 3-D modeling to develop solutions

New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York is one of the busiest airports in the world, with more than 45 million passengers streaming through its terminals. It’s very challenging to work amidst all of those people and the planes that carry them about without disturbing any aspects of this mini-city – not impacting ongoing operations is an essential part of airport construction.

Building information modeling (BIM) helped us successfully navigate this complex environment while doing the foundation work as part of the team for the JFK’s Checked Baggage Inspection System project. With BIM, we provided the owner with a 21 percent savings from the original design cost, shortened the schedule by three weeks and provided a safe job site in which there were no lost-time accidents.


Skanska’s work included driving 152 foundation piles. Our use of BIM stemmed from a vexing challenge: 42 of the 152 piles required for this project needed to be driven underneath and just six inches from the tapered cantilever glass wall of the existing, operating terminal. Additionally, airplane wings would be just feet from Skanska’s pile driving rigs as the jets taxied about. We needed a smart solution to help us successfully and safely deliver our portion of the project.

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Here are four ways BIM benefited this project:

1. Visualizing solutions: We were able to digitally visualize different alternatives for driving different types of piles. Model visualization – whether it be simple views or the ability to walk through or fly around the virtual project – offers new opportunities to communicate and collaborate, which leads to better decisions. At JFK, we were able to visualize what length and what kinds of piles could be used without having to drill a single hole.

2. Evaluating alternatives: Alternatives can be more easily understood and evaluated in terms of cost and other project parameters. BIM helped us evaluate an approach based on non-standard Tapertubes versus pipe piles. (Tapertubes differ from standard piles in that they have a tapered tip.)

3. Sustainability analysis: An additional benefit of using Tapertubes is that they offer a greener solution, requiring less steel, less concrete and less welding – significant energy and emissions savings resulted from this approach.

4. Improved safety performance: Using BIM means an increased focus on planning before physical construction takes place. By investing the time and effort to determine in a detailed way how the job will be carried out, this ensures everybody knows what to do and expect, reducing the potential for accidents. Additionally, the  team can examine the virtual project and determine hazards before they occur and plan how to handle them, or engineer them out altogether.

Alex Filotti

Alex Filotti

Project manager, Underpinning and Foundation Skanska

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