Project Management Institute

Clear skies

With focused brainstorming and a comprehensive plan, project managers with the U.S. Air Force avoided risks during construction at Spangdahlem Air Base

When U.S. Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) needed to consolidate resources, it turned to Germany. With greater capacity at its Ramstein and Spangdahlem air bases, USAFE could close the Rhein-Main Air Base. So, on 23 December 1999, the Federal Republic of Germany, the State of Hessen, the State of Rhineland-Palatinate and Fraport AG agreed to cover US$320 million for construction and incidental project costs, allowing the United States to return Rhein-Main Air Base to the German people by 31 December 2005.

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With focused brainstorming and a comprehensive plan, project managers with the U.S. Air Force avoided risks during construction at Spangdahlem Air Base.

BY ORAL D. STAMAN, PE, PMP

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

→ When USAFE embarked on an ambitious $180 million construction program at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, project managers paid special attention to risk management.

→ A program management office minimized the probability and consequences of problems by detailing the work package and customizing a risk management process.

→ Early in the design phase, project managers worked with appropriate personnel to address the most pressing risks and develop plans to deal with them.

→ Brainstorming sessions yielded 25 risk events in five groups, and project managers used these risk events to create a risk matrix.

→ Weekly construction meetings allowed stakeholders to review progress and to ensure that all parties clearly understood who was responsible for what.

→ The construction on Spangdahlem's main runway was accomplished on schedule and 20 percent under budget.

However, as USAFE embarked on the ambitious $180 million construction program at Spangdahlem Air Base, project managers registered a number of risks. The effort, which involved 23 projects on an active NATO airfield, couldn't interfere with daily flight operations. During construction, all U.S. Air Force A-10 and F-16 aircraft were restricted to a taxiway that is half the width of and 2,000 feet shorter than the main runway, which led to safety concerns.

Recognizing that a risk management strategy was needed, a program management office (PMO) developed a strategy to minimize the probability and consequences of problems.

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A fabric fence was installed between the temporary active runway and construction activities on the main runway.

First Things First

The PMO launched the project by detailing the work package. Construction activities included replacing the instrument landing system; adding 26-foot-wide shoulders to the main runway; and constructing ramp and refueling capabilities for 11 wide-body aircraft (C-5A, KC-10, C-17), a squadron operations facility and new dormitories for air force personnel. The main runway would be closed from 1 March 2003 through 30 August 2003, and the construction crews had to make the most of their time.

Early in the design phase, project managers worked with the base fighter wing command, base civil engineering, flight safety and airfield management personnel to address potential risks through a series of brainstorming sessions. The team asked “what-if”-type questions such as:

  • Land is not acquired from local German landowners
  • The Air Traffic Act (ATA) permit is not approved by the German government
  • Project designs are delayed.

Because of limited time and resources, the team had to address the most pressing risks and develop plans to deal with them. These brainstorming sessions developed 25 risk events in five groups:

img German Agreement Partner Coordination

img Design Agent and Base Coordination

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To ensure work did not interfere with daily flights, a turnaround was constructed at the end of the runway.

img Flight Operations

img Environment

img Logistics.

Project managers used these risk events to create a matrix (Table 1) that compared probability of occurrence, internal or external factor to USAFE and office of primary responsibility. The project team assigned a risk impact rating to each event.

The probability of occurrence and the risk impact ratings were determined qualitatively, because not enough statistical data was available for a quantitative analysis. Many events with a high-to-medium probability eventually did occur during the design and construction, including delays in obtaining the ATA permit, cold and wet weather problems, increased force protection conditions for the base (THREATCON) and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

All Systems Check

After identifying and qualifying the risks, the project management team worked to develop the risk response planning, monitoring and controlling strategies using the U.S. Air Force's Operational Risk Management (ORM) procedures. Established in Air Force Instruction 91-215, these methods were familiar to most personnel within the key functional offices including airfield management, flight operations, flight safety, ground safety, civil engineering, security forces, base communications and the construction program management office.

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For each of the risk events identified, the functional office with the most expertise in addressing the risk event created a risk management plan using the ORM worksheet. By assigning risk management responsibility to each office, the PMO ensured appropriate measures would be followed. An abbreviated example of the in-flight emergency assessment done by the flight safety office is shown in Table 1.

In the case of an in-flight aircraft emergency, the flight safety office determined that airborne aircraft potentially could collide with construction equipment or people while attempting to land on a very narrow runway—the normal lateral clear zone (obstacle free) is 700 feet from an active runway, but during construction this distance was reduced to just 160 feet.

On the worksheet, the potential hazards include aircraft colliding with construction obstacles, equipment or people, or construction debris being sucked into a jet engine and destroying the engine. Hazards are categorized by the severity, probability and risk classification of the event.

Next, the flight safety team identified one or more control measures—in this case, physical, written and verbal communications—to mitigate or reduce the risks. Because of the severity of the hazards, ground personnel and pilots had to understand them quickly and clearly. The physical communication included construction of a 10,000-foot-long, 4-foot-tall fabric fence 160 feet from the edge of the runway, as well as barricades with flashing lights and military personnel with tower-capable radios in vehicles at the connecting taxiways. Aircrews were briefed, international notices were distributed to flight personnel, and airfield approach and departure procedures were published.

These measures were essential, but the most effective and critical control and monitoring measure was the daily and hourly communication exchange between airfield management, civil engineering, the PMO, and Landesbetrieb Liegenschafts-und Baubetreuung, NL Trier (LBB), the German construction management firm.

In addition, weekly construction meetings allowed stakeholders to review progress and ensure that all parties clearly understood who was responsible for what.

The cultural differences and communication challenges between Americans and Germans—and civilians and military staff—were reduced significantly by the sincere teamwork attitude of everyone involved. LBB used experienced engineers who had worked on the base for many years, the base civil engineer employed German engineers as permanent employees, the PMO hired a German scheduler and a translator, and LBB hired multilingual project management consultants for this program.

No Turbulence

A successful process at Spangdahlem Air Base enabled all functional offices to develop a coordinated plan that monitored and mitigated potential risks.

Early identification of risk events in the project life cycle enabled the appropriate risk management response. The program management office, wing organizations and German government engineering-construction manager were able to anticipate, monitor and control potential risks to the construction program.

The construction on Spangdahlem's main runway was accomplished on schedule and 20 percent under budget. Work continues through September 2005 to build parking and refueling points for up to 13 C-5 aircraft and the associated maintenance facilities. Based on the success of risk management techniques used in the initial construction, project managers will ensure work continues right on course. PM

Oral D. Staman, PE, PMP, was the lead project manager at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. He currently is the chief of maintenance engineering with the 3rd Civil Engineer Squadron, Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, USA.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

PM NETWORK | MARCH 2004 | WWW.PMI.ORG
MARCH 2004 | PM NETWORK

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