Like airports across the world, Chicago Rockford International Airport in Illinois has been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. But with the help of Cityworks, the Greater Rockford Airport Authority has been able to manage operations with minimal disruption, even earning the FAA Part 139 certification on schedule.

The Chicago Rockford International Airport (RFD) runs like a small city in and of itself. Spanning more than 3,000 acres, RFD encompasses state-of-the-art airport facilities and runways with lengths of 10,000 and 8,200 feet. The nineteenth busiest cargo airport in the United States, RFD has a rapidly growing cargo industry and is home to UPS’s largest regional parcel-sorting center. The airport also serves about 230,000 passengers each year.

Chicago Rockford International Airport Chicago Rockford International Airport’s airfield layout

Close to 40 full-time employees across varying departments run RFD around the clock. Airport sectors include administration, maintenance, terminal staff, security, and the fire department—all managed through the operations department of the Greater Rockford Airport Authority. Regulatory compliance for both the FAA and TSA, as well as environmental compliance, are also managed through the operations department.

Chicago Rockford International Airport's New Terminal Chicago Rockford International Airport’s new terminal

COVID-19 Impact

In March 2020, the airport implemented significant staff scheduling adjustments to ensure the safety of airport personnel during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the staff moved to 12-hour in-airport shifts every third day and working from home on the other days. Others worked on an A team and B team rotation where the A team worked in-airport one week and the B team the next.

The fire department is required to be fully staffed at all times, so fire department staff quarantined in the station and only entered other areas of the airport if there was an emergency.

During the spring of 2020, passenger travel decreased by 96 percent nationwide. While RFD experienced similar passenger decline, cargo flights increased by 30 percent. UPS and Amazon increased flights out of RFD, making the cargo side of the airport the busiest it’s ever been.

All airport inspections, including Part 139 inspections required by the FAA, continued as normal through the hard work of airport staff operating within the confines of their new working arrangements. Cityworks was the core application that kept everyone on the same page.

“We use Cityworks for all operations, inspections, and to log all incidents at the airport. It’s been easy for me to keep an eye on all these areas during our altered schedules,” said Seth Nygen, operations manager at RFD. “Our operations and maintenance staff can also monitor what’s going on at the airport even when they aren’t physically there. Cityworks helped everyone view and share information as staff rotated through the schedule.”

In mid-June 2020, the airport migrated back to mostly normal work schedules but is prepared to adapt accordingly if the virus forces further adjustments in the future.

The Path to Cityworks

Prior to their Cityworks implementation, RFD staff tracked maintenance work, record keeping, compliance documents, and all other data manually. They used a basic computer-based work order system that included several paper forms and Excel spreadsheets. Offices were lined with cabinets full of handbooks, manuals, plans, and paperwork. Staff poured countless hours each day into consistent record matching, but they couldn’t effectively track information needed for FAA compliance.

In 2013, RFD applied for a FAA pilot program and was selected as a trial location for an electronic airport layout plan collecting GIS data to assist in FAA compliance. This led to research on what other airports were using for enterprise airport management, and discovering Cityworks.

The Results

Once Cityworks was up and running, staff quickly realized the benefits of the system. Managing all aspects of airport maintenance and operations—including FAA certification inspections—from one central GIS-centric system allowed RFD to dig deeper into their operations analysis.

Chicago Rockford International Airport's metrics Chicago Rockford International Airport’s metrics

“The data we can capture in Cityworks proves every day that this investment is saving time and money,” Nygen said. “Airports are a constantly changing environment, and Cityworks keeps up with that and allows for complete control of our operation. We have become less reactive and more proactive as an organization and have better efficiency and greater understanding of our operation overall.”

During RFD’s annual FAA certification inspection, the airport shared their Cityworks implementation with their FAA inspector. Familiar with neighboring Milwaukee Mitchell International Airiport’s Cityworks system, RFD’s inspector encouraged them to continue developing the system.

Nygen explained, “Our FAA inspector saw the growth that we were experiencing and was impressed with the Cityworks system and the reports it was producing. He encouraged us to further develop Cityworks, recognizing the benefits it provides and our need to fully embrace a digital platform to stay on top of growth. Through Cityworks, we were able to streamline our daily work processes as well as our annual inspections, which resulted in RFD achieving a perfect inspection this past March.”

Unexpected Benefits

During the spring, while on rotating schedules, RFD staff began using features within Cityworks that they hadn’t before. Automated reports of airport metrics to keep everyone connected allowed for less in-person interaction while trying to safely socially distance. The reports they began using are now helping the airport in other unexpected ways through sharing and automation of data.

“Cityworks reporting tools, specifically Crystal Reports, kept everyone together and connected,” said Nygen. “Instead of doing a lot of the work in person, the system does the work for you, which kept lines of communication open when staff were on rotating work schedules between the airport and home.”

Using Cityworks for nearly seven years now and finding new ways to maximize its benefits through the current pandemic, RFD is an ideal model of an airport Cityworks implementation.

Chicago Rockford International Airport's security audit dashboard Chicago Rockford International Airport’s security audit dashboard

“Airports are a constantly changing environment and need a system that can not only keep up but allow for complete control of the operations 24/7/365. Cityworks does that and more,” stated Nygen. “The data we are able to capture via Cityworks proves to us every day that our use of the system saves us time and money. Our plans are to continue development through all aspects of our airport campus, every department and asset including environmental, noise, wildlife, ARFF [Airport Rescue and Firefighting], and so on. We look forward to our enterprise airport management system’s continued development and the benefits the airport will reap as a result.”

By Lindsay Ferguson, Cityworks contributing author


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