Aviation News

April 3, 2014

Grab A Snickers: Newark Runway Closed for the Next Two Months

On Tuesday, April 1st 2014, a major runway at Newark Liberty International Airport began a 60 day shutdown for rehabilitation work. As was first announced last July Runway 4L/22R, Newark’s primary departure runway, was closed as part of a significant overhaul of the airport’s runways and taxiways. This overhaul will see a wide variety of improvements performed, which will extend the runway’s usefulness and lifespan while improving capacity at the airport. It is just one step in a summer-long runway construction project at Newark.

A map of Newark's runways and taxiways as they currently exist. Click to enlarge.

A map of Newark’s runways and taxiways as they currently exist. Click to enlarge.

The closure is necessary so that Runway 4L/22R can be kept in a state of good repair. The work to be done includes a complete resurfacing of the runway’s asphalt pavement, which was last completed in 2003. Simultaneously, the electrical infrastructure for the runway lighting system will be overhauled, and new, LED-based runway lights will be installed. The project also includes the construction of a pair of high-speed taxiways, which will help to reduce overall delays at the airport.

The current 60 day closure of Runway 4L/22R will end on June 1, just in time for the peak summer travel season. Once it is reopened, the runway will operate at a reduced capacity until the middle of June. The runway will be closed again on September 20th for 10 days to allow for additional work to be completed.

While runway 4L/22R is closed, the intersecting east-west runway 11/29, will see increased usage as it picks up a larger portion of the traffic. While the main north-south runways are 10,000 to 11,000 feet in length, the east-west runway is only 6,800 feet long. This limits which aircraft can use the shorter runway, especially for takeoffs when heavy loads may require a longer runway. Another effect of the increased usage of runway 11/29 is that it will cause a change in the flight patterns into and out of the airport. This change may lead to additional aircraft noise in some communities around the airport.

Given that Newark is prone to delays even with all three of its runways open, the closure of one of its two longest runways significantly increases that potential. In order to mitigate that increased risk, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has worked with the airlines serving the airport to voluntarily cut 15 percent of the flights into and out of Newark during this closure. In spite of these preventative measures, the effect of weather conditions that would slow operations at the airport will be magnified due to the closure. High winds are a particular concern, as they could make the use of one of the two available runways impossible. Weather conditions that would require aircraft to use the instrument landing system (ILS) could also prove challenging as runway 29 is not equipped for that type of arrival.

According to Ray Adams, NATCA president at Newark Tower, Runway 4R/22L will primarily be used for departures, while most arrivals will use Runway 29. When runway 22L is being used for departures, the potential for operational delays is lowest. Because aircraft departing on Runway 22L enter the runway at the intersection with Taxiway W, the two runways do not intersect operationally. Controllers will need just slightly more time than they normally would between a departure and an arrival.

Departures on runway 4R will be significantly more challenging. Because of the distance between where the aircraft line up and the departure end of Runway 4R, significantly more time will be needed between a departure and an arrival. As a result, the controllers in Newark Tower will need to “thread the needle,” properly spacing arrivals so that they can squeeze departures out in between. The additional time needed for this arrival and departure pattern will likely lead to additional delays.

A view of where runway 29 intersects with runways 22L (near) and 22R (far).

A view of where Newark’s runway 29 intersects with runways 22L (near) and 22R (far).

As part of the planning for this closure and the increased reliance on Runway 29 in particular, a new visual approach was developed. The new Bridge Visual approach allows aircraft approaching from the south to fly in a wide loop over Staten Island, NY and Bayonne, NJ before landing towards the west. This new approach was designed by air traffic controllers from Newark Tower and New York TRACON, with input from the various airlines that use the airport. Until recently, the only two approaches to Runway 29 were the Stadium Visual from the north and the Morris Avenue Visual from the west. All arrivals on runway 11 must use the existing ILS or localizer approach.

The controllers in New York TRACON and Newark Tower have been very active in preparation for the runway closure. Not only did representatives from both organizations play a key role in helping to craft the operational plans, they also underwent extensive training to become proficient in the air traffic patterns that will be used. Using the facility’s state-of-the-art air traffic control simulator, controllers have been able to practice controlling each of the patterns that will be used while Runway 4L/22R is shut down. Particular attention has been paid to the aforementioned pattern using Runway 4R for departures and Runway 29 for arrivals. This is not an air traffic pattern that is used at any time other than when there is an extended runway closure. While veteran controllers have some experience with it from previous closures, newer controllers have been given extra time in the simulator so that they could expertly control aircraft using that arrival and departure pattern from day one.

According to Mr. Adams, the first few days of the closure have run relatively smoothly. While there have been a few issues with the handoffs between New York TRACON and Newark Tower, Mr. Adams attributed this to simply needing to “work out the kinks” in the new system. He is confident that even after just two days of the closure, those issues have already been adequately addressed and that they shouldn’t pose further problems.


Ben Granucci, Associate Editor, is an aviation enthusiast and planespotter based in New York City. Growing up in Connecticut, he has had his eyes toward the sky for as long as he can remember. He can be reached on Twitter at @BLGranucci or through his blog at Landing-Lights.com

About the Author

Ben Granucci
Ben Granucci, Senior Editor, is an aviation enthusiast and plane spotter based in New York City. Growing up in Connecticut, he has had his eyes toward the sky for as long as he can remember. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter.



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