Keeping It Moving
IUEC Local 32 ensures that Atlanta’s airport continues to impress the millions who pass through.
A client meeting overseas, a best friend’s destination wedding, the vacation of a lifetime, an interview for that ideal job on the west coast or a return trip back home. Air travel takes us where we need to be and where we want to be, keeps us connected and keeps us moving. What was once the idea of two brothers with a big dream—Orville and Wilbur Wright—is today not just a reality but a necessity. And, when it comes to air travel, nothing reigns more supreme than efficiency and safety. This is true of the actual time spent in the air and true of the time spent in the airport itself.
Consider for a minute the last time you traveled by air and the vast number of people you saw making their way through the airport at the same time as you. There were probably too many people to remember particular faces, only the long lines of people at the security check, the lines of people buying coffee at Starbucks, and the bevy of people waiting for the shuttle bus to take them to their car. Your experience was but a very small slice of what goes on all day every day at our airports. Now think about this: Chances are every single person you saw in your short time at the airport used an elevator, escalator or moving walk to get them around the airport. Airports are like cities that never sleep and their services and features, including the elevators, escalators and moving walks, need to deliver 24/7 reliability and safety.
This fact is certainly not lost on the men and women of the International Union of Elevator Constructors Local 32, Atlanta, GA, who have been on site at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport literally since the airport’s opening 37 years ago. The craftsmanship these members have lent to the airport over nearly four decades has made a major impact not just on the city of Atlanta but on the United States’ overall efforts to strengthen and improve infrastructure, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of travelers from all around the world who make their way through Hartsfield-Jackson each day.
Hartsfield-Jackson is the world’s—yes, world’s—busiest airport and has been since 1998. In 2015 it became the first airport in the world to serve 100 million passengers in one year! There are seven concourses and 200 gates, the most at any airport. The airport sees about 2,500 arrivals and departures daily and serves 150 U.S. destinations and more than 75 international destinations in 50 countries. The airport is served by over 20 passenger airlines and almost two dozen cargo carriers. Including airline, ground transportation, concession, security, federal government, City of Atlanta and airport tenant employees, Hartsfield-Jackson employs more than 63,000 people, making it the state’s largest employer. It does indeed function like a city.
Atlanta’s airport opened with elevators installed by Dover and escalators and moving walkways installed by Montgomery, which became Montgomery KONE and eventually just KONE. While Dover held a service contract for a few years on the elevators (service on the moving walkways and escalators was always under KONE), eventually the service contract for all of the equipment was awarded to KONE, which still provides service today.
Hartsfield-Jackson is an important, and consistent, employer of Local 32 members. The service crew that maintains all of the elevators in the airport has remained at a consistent 10 mechanics—three on the day shift, three in the evening, and four at night—since the airport opened. The day & evening shift is manned by service mechanics Tim Rogers, Ken Kelly, Aaron Midkiff, Rich Camp, Greg Mecke and Supervisor Tony Mullins. The night shift is manned by mechanics Eric Rabe, Don Johnson, Jonathan White and lead mechanic Ken Griffey . Throughout the years, there have been additions to the airport, adding more concourses and subsequently additional elevators, escalators and moving walks, and bringing the total number of units under the responsibility of the 10-person IUEC maintenance crew to 324 total units.
But, even with the best installation and the best service and maintenance, equipment gets old and it needs to be modernized. Local 32 member Tony Mullins has been the head of service for KONE for 22 years at Hartsfield-Jackson. He has seen the evolution of the airport and knows first-hand how challenging it can be to keep the units working in top condition. “All of the equipment has been running 24/7 since 1980,” he noted. “That’s a lot of hours!”
As one can imagine, modernizing equipment that hundreds of thousands of people rely on each day is no small undertaking. Add to that responsibility a very large number of units to be modernized—100 in all—and the task at hand looms even larger. For the past seven years, Local 32 members have been plying their skills modernizing what they have affectionately nicknamed the “79 models,” after the year in which they were installed. To date, the crews have completed 94 units with just one more escalator and five elevators left to go. When the project is complete, 16 moving walkways, 34 escalators and 50 elevators will have been modernized with the most highly advanced, most efficient, safest equipment available today.
Throughout the project, modernization of all three types of units—walkways, escalators and elevators—was taking place concurrently. It required a tremendous amount of coordination from all involved with as little disruption to the airport and the general public as possible, working around passengers and the general business of the airport. While that alone was certainly a challenge, it wasn’t the only challenge the crew faced. The crew had to remove the old equipment and receive the new equipment through a 14’x14’ hatch that had to be cut in the roof of the airport. Equipment exited and entered the hatch with the help of a crane.
The walkways, ranging in length from 167’ to 307’ in length, and escalators, ranging from 17’ to 46’ in rise, were completely torn out, leaving only their trusses. The tear out was completed at night while the install was completed during the day shift. Each walkway required two two-man crews, and each escalator required one two-man crew. The walkways and escalators were completed two at a time with each walkway requiring about 20 weeks to complete and each escalator requiring about 14 weeks to complete.
Once the old equipment was removed, the trusses were cleaned and painted before the new units were installed. The new equipment is vastly different from the old equipment, operating more efficiently, quieter and smoother. The new equipment is all oil-less, sealed and environmentally friendly. The old units used to run at 90’ per minute and now the walkways run at 100’ per minute and the escalators run at 130’ per minute.
The elevator modernization included 12 traction units and 38 hydraulic units. Each elevator required one two-man crew. Elevators were worked on two at a time, with the traction units requiring 10 weeks each to complete and the hydraulic units requiring six weeks each to complete. All of the units that had been Dover units from the original construction were replaced with KONE units with a smoother, quieter ride. IUEC mechanics replaced all of the controllers, doors and door components, wiring, leveling switches, machines and pumping units. The interior of each cab was also completely modernized including new operating panels. Just about the only things that remained from the original units were the rails, the pistons on the hydro units, and the car slings.
Especially unique on this project was the number of entities involved. You see, it wasn’t just the IUEC, the contractor and the airport. The airport is owned by the City of Atlanta so the IUEC crew certainly had to impress city officials but the airport is maintained by an association formed by the airlines that use the airport—the Atlanta Airlines Terminal Corporation—so the elevator constructors also had to live up to corporate expectations of as little disruption to business as possible.
Brother Mullins says that he has heard many compliments from the airport authority and the riding public on the efficiency of the new equipment. He added his own words of praise for the mod crews saying that the quality of their work has been outstanding and they have been complete professionals in the airport and with the general public.”
He noted that while the elevator work fell mostly under the direction of the KONE office staff, the work on the escalators and moving walkways fell under the leadership of Foreman Dan Richardson, from Local 124, Mobile, AL, to whom Brother Mullins gave high praise. “I was able to lend my knowledge of the airport to Dan and together with Dan’s experience, the project went well,” remarked Brother Mullins.
There is no doubt that the quality of the crew on site along with the quality of the work they performed is what enabled this project to be accident free. That’s right, not a single lost-time accident over the course of this massive modernization project!
Incredibly, Atlanta’s airport is slated for even more construction with a new 20-year plan in place to add new concourses, new parking garages and even a 10-story hotel. It is estimated to cost $6 billion. While contracts have not yet been awarded to specific trades, it is highly likely that Local’s 32 mutually beneficial relationship with Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport will continue for many, many years to come. But, make no mistake, Local 32 never has and never will take the work they do, the work they’ve done, at the airport for granted. “This work has been wonderful to the local and kept a lot of guys working even when work was slack,” noted Brother Mullins. “With so many people coming through the airport, it’s been good exposure for the local and the IUEC because people have noticed the reliability of the new equipment.”