What I learned this week: Airport Runway Capacity

Over the past year, I have flown to and from New York 7 times. That doesn’t seem like a very large number unless, like me, you prefer the comforts of home and Electric Hero subs from a few blocks away.

Being in Grand Rapids, my direct flight options are a little bit limited. Specifically I can go to Newark, or I can go to LaGuardia. Or I can do a multi-leg journey to JFK. Since interviewing at Arkus, I’ve chosen LGA every time except one time going to Newark and questioning my life choices the entire time.

LaGuardia has been undergoing MASSIVE reconstruction since I started flying out there in 2016, and it has made traveling through the place a greater headache each time. If the standard traffic weren’t enough, you now have to compete against road closures, construction zones, and entire areas of the airport being suddenly inaccessible after they were there two months ago. Keeps me on my toes, that’s for sure.

On my last visit, I couldn’t help but wonder, sitting at a standstill in a line of cars, waiting to exit the airport grounds, and looking at brightly colored signs happily declaring that “a better LaGuardia is coming!” just how long this could possible go on. What sort of purgatory are collectively experiencing? So I Googled it, and apparently I’m not the first one to do this, since the suggestion was immediate.

2022. By the way. 

The part that intrigued me…that’s not fair. It was actually fascinating. The original airport was built in the 1920s, which blew my mind because…did Queens need an airport then? Apparently. The next terminal was built in the 60s, then then 80s, and finally the 90s, and so they ended up with this Tetris kind of place. Not the point.

The part that REALLY piqued my interest was a line toward the end that they are going to add 2 miles of runway, which will help increase the airport’s capacity and decrease some of the issues they have with delays. (Did I mention that I read this while my flight was delayed by over an hour? Yeah. So at least I could understand the root cause.)

What does that have to do with anything, though? How would two miles really have an impact?

As it turns out, this is a Thing. Like an FAA thing. They produce semi-regular Airport Capacity Profiles (last updated in 2014) that determine, based on things like runway space and layout, just how many flights any given airport has actual capacity for. Specifically these reports identify the maximum capacity within a single hour of operation. These overall capacity reports are then broken down by things like weather conditions (visual, marginal, and instrument), realistic operational conditions, and even external factors that may have improved capacity since the last overview.

And you bet they have one for LaGuardia. I read it. But it didn’t quite explain how the two miles of runway would improve performance, so I had to keep looking.

Did you know StackExchange has a whole Aviation subdomain?

LaGuardia currently operates 22 arrival runways and 13 departure runways. Adding two miles of space to increase the number could have a positive effect on the capacity of the airport, but adding runways alone does not solve the problem. For instance, depending on the layout of the runways – parallel or perpendicular – you may have better capacity when the weather is cooperating (parallel) or more options and better sustained capacity when weather is less than ideal (perpendicular).

The mix of aircraft sizes could have an impact. If a very large, heavy aircraft lands, it produces more wake turbulence than a smaller craft, so having a larger variety could mean smaller planes have to wait longer.

The sequencing of arrivals and departures – how many planes are arriving vs. leaving? Will we have room for them? Better get that right.

Sequencing across airports – LaGuardia is in what’s considered the NY/NY/PHL airspace, which supports flights to LGA, JFK, EWR, and PHL. And as it turns out, big freaking flying machines need room to maneuver, so it’s not just the flights into and out of LaGuardia that need to be considered.

Runway exits. Wind strength in the area. Noise constraints. Lateral separation. So. Many. Things.

By the time I read through the capacity report, learned from the experts on Stack Exchange, and took a moment to consider all of the other things going on around a tarmac, I realized two things.

  1. It is very unlikely that adding two miles to the runways at LaGuardia will have THAT big of an impact.
  2. It is kind of a miracle that we ever get anywhere when it comes to flying, so maybe be nicer to the folks at the desk.

What I learned this week: Data Skew

Disclaimer: In the spirit of full transparency, I learned about data skew a little while ago. But the whole point is “what I learned this week.” In some cases, “this week,” just refers to this week in time…like…last week, last month, whatever.

My first brush with NPSP was as a consultant. I remember very clearly thinking that some of the features would have been very handy for my B2B sales staff back in the day. In a lot of ways it was love at first sight. I still get prickly when people say mean things about it…

[Insert about a half hour of me looking for the best option for a “Don’t talk to me or my son ever again” meme before realizing there could potentially be a better use for my time.]

That said, the first time I started getting error emails at about 2am was ALSO around this time.

You know, this one:

Message: “First error: Update failed. First exception on row 0 with id 001……………; first error: UNABLE_TO_LOCK_ROW, unable to obtain exclusive access to this record or 1 records: 001…………….: []”

And I was flummoxed. What does that even mean? Why are you locking anything? Who said that you needed exclusive rights? And what does this have to do with merging records?

For a while I sort of…ignored it. Honestly it would run again at some point, right? It rarely happened more than once for the same record.

Sometimes I would have dozens of them. Usually right after some major data change or something. I suspected they were related, but I had other pressing concerns, and eventually everything would be sorted.

Over time I filled in the blanks. Unable to lock row meant that whatever the code was trying to do, it couldn’t get update access to the record.

If I spent more than 30 seconds on it, it made sense. A record cannot be edited by more than one person at a time, so why would it make an exception (ha ha – get it?) for custom code.

And then again, for a while, I left it at that.

Enter Data Architect Trailmix, stage right.

A super important part of the large data volume considerations that are discussed in the data architect arena is the concept of data skew. And as I read about it, I was taken back to a project early on, a move from the Starter Pack and a bucket model to NPSP with Household Accounts.

This client was looking to upgrade to the new success pack. They had been using the bucket model for YEARS – more than 50,000 contacts all inelegantly shoved into this single Account called “Individual.”

It was difficult to report on things. It took forever for the record to load.

I knew that there was a correlation, but I could not, especially at that time, explain what it was. I had a sense that having to many child records was a bad thing. I didn’t know what to call it. And I wouldn’t know, until years later, that that very situation was what caused errors during the overnight batch processing.

Data skew occurs when we have too many child records, plain and simple. It has an impact on loading time (you try showing a record and querying tens of thousands of records at one time), reporting, and…yes, automation.

It doesn’t exactly help me fix the errors all the time. Sometimes it’s just bad timing, and not even because of data skew. But putting a name to something makes it more accessible, less concerning.

Carry on, NPSP. Carry on.

What I learned about this week: E3

Look at me, sticking with this idea of sharing the things I learn each….week….ish.

And really, I’ve learned a lot this week. I’ve been studying for some exams, been setting up some new third party applications I haven’t used before. That’s cool.

Know what’s even cooler? E3. E3 is infinitely cooler. To an extent, anyway. I mean I don’t GO because…people. But I can watch all of the announcements via the wonders of the world wide web, and here are the things that I learned.

Bethesda is still just…really wanting me to buy Fallout 76. It’s not going to happen, Todd. It’s just not. Best overview of their announcements? Right here, from the Onion.

Sony wasn’t at E3, but we still got to see the Final Fantasy VII remake from Square Enix, which is exclusive to Playstation.

BORDERLANDS 3. OUTER WORLDS.

But what has really stuck with me is that the new Cyberpunk 2077 trailer and RELEASE DATE melts my face right off. It’s just gone. My face has been replaced with a constantly shocked and impatient look of wonder.

Have you seen it?

I didn’t know that a game trailer would ever be able to do that. But here we are. Just in case, I’ll probably go watch the trailer a couple of more times…see if there’s anything else I can pick up before this week is over.