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Hill Helps Philadelphia International Airport Keep Construction on Track

Airports have changed a lot in the past two decades, as advances in aircraft and airport design, passenger service and security continue to push airport facilities to new heights. For the past 26 years, Hill has helped Philadelphia International Airport, the nation’s 15th busiest, grow and evolve with the changing times. “What we do at PHL is very unique,” said Michael V. Griffin, P.E., Hill Senior Vice President and Mid-Atlantic Regional Manager.  Since 1989, Hill International has helped manage the Philadelphia International Airport’s multi-billion-dollar capital program to improve facilities and increase capacity.  “Our services do not fall under ‘traditional’ project management or construction management. We don’t manage the specific projects; we assist in managing the entire process,” Griffin added.

“We perform a lot of back-office functions that have traditionally been done by airport staff but, in this case, are performed by Hill as the airport’s Program Management consultant,” Griffin continued.

Hill’s role has evolved as the airport’s needs have evolved, Griffin said. “Our role formerly was more construction-related, involving more traditional project management or construction management.  Now, most of the work that we do involves the financial side of the capital program.”

Hill Program Manager James P. Donnelly is part of a team that has been working alongside the airport’s Department of Engineering for several years. “We answer to the airport’s Finance Department, act as a bridge between the two departments, and oversee all of the funding sources for the capital program,” Donnelly said. “We’re another set of eyes.”

Hill’s team helps to ensure that precious funding is prudently spent, both Griffin and Donnelly explained.

An improving U.S. economy, an uptick in air travel, and increased public funding for transportation projects have placed capital projects back on the drawing boards at many international and regional airports.  Hill’s unique slate of services can help airports meet exploding demand without hiring large in-house staffs, and can help their larger counterparts staff capital projects with teams of professionals who have decades of experience in the industry.

“Airports of any size need to know that there is someone out there who can do these types of tasks, that they can be outsourced, and that we can become a seamless part of an airport’s staff,” Griffin said.

Airport Project Management System

To help the airport manage its many projects, Hill implemented a computerized Airport Project Management System, and was one of the first firms in the industry to use technology to help project owners keep track of myriad, simultaneous capital projects. This system maintains all information about the projects, contracts, funding sources and financial transactions in a menu-driven integrated database. It has been updated as technology and the airport’s needs evolve, and has proven to be an invaluable tool in managing the Capital Improvement Program, Griffin said.

Financial Planning and Project Funding

Hill works with the Philadelphia Division of Aviation to determine sources of funding for each project, and prepares grant applications.  Hill also has helped the airport seek and administer new sources of funding, such as commercial funding, which will result in significant savings.  “The airport brought on ‘commercial paper’ as a new source of funding, and we track the different types of commercial funding including taxable, Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) and non-AMT to specific projects,” Donnelly said.

Grant Administration

Once funding is promised, Hill helps to ensure that monies are received, well spent, and well documented.  Hill serves as liaison between the Division of Aviation and the grantors, which include the Federal Aviation Administration, PennDOT and other agencies—each of which has different reporting requirements and reimbursement strategies. “We prepare and file grant reimbursement requests, and provide vital reporting throughout the grant process,” Griffin explained. Hill also administers and provides detailed reports on expenditures of the  billion plus raised to-date by the airport’s Passenger Facility Charge, which charges each passenger a nominal fee that helps fund ongoing improvements at the airport.

Administration of RFQ/RFP Process

Hill helps the Division of Aviation manage the consultant selection process for all professional service contracts awarded by all of its units.  “We prepare Requests for Proposals or Requests for Qualifications, distribute documents to prospective proposers, participate in pre-proposal meetings, prepare documents that help the airport make selection decisions, and prepare notifications of results to the proposing firms,” Griffin said.  “We do not influence the decision-making process, but do all we can to make that process more efficient.”

Contract Processing

Once consultants are selected, Hill serves as a liaison among the consultants and the Division of Aviation to facilitate their contracts, and get projects started.  “We oversee and help guide the RFP/RFQ and contract preparation processes so they’re completed promptly, and work with the consultants, the DOA and various city agencies to minimize potential misunderstandings and delays,” Griffin said.

Invoice Processing

Donnelly’s team reviews and processes invoices for payment, checking them for accuracy and compliance with contract requirements.   The team also prepares necessary documentation to get invoices paid, and tracks their progress.  “Our goal has always been to check the invoices thoroughly and promptly, so that payments are not unduly delayed,” Donnelly said.

Planning, Design and Construction Inspection

Hill provides a host of services on an as-needed basis, including professional planning, design, and construction inspection services, augmenting the airport’s department of engineering staff. “We’re also providing a full-time construction scheduler to augment airport’s staff and help keep projects moving,” Griffin added.

Project Management Assistance

Hill provides traditional project management services as needed, Griffin and Donnelly said, helping DOA project managers complete a variety of land- and air-side projects on time and within budget.  Hill’s longevity at the airport, and resultant benefits of its services, have made working with airport staff easy.  “We work very well together,” Donnelly said. By their nature, airports are under intense scrutiny and must adhere to local, state and federal regulation.  Managing several simultaneous projects in an ever-changing regulatory environment isn’t easy, both Griffin and Donnelly concede.  “Because we work closely with the FAA and other regulatory agencies, we have a good handle on the regulations and the changes to those regulations that are constantly taking place,” Donnelly said.

Permit Application Processing

Donnelly’s team helps to keep the complex permitting process moving by reviewing permit applications for compliance with DOA requirements, carefully tracks the progress of each application, and liaises with various agencies to get them approved as quickly as possible. “We manage the permitting process, whether it’s for an airline that wants to modify or expand its terminal facilities or for a food service vendor that wants to come in to the airport or expand its current space.  We make sure that the right people review it and sign off on it,” Griffin said.


Hill produces a variety of detailed, tailored reports to keep DOA staff, the city, grantors including the FAA and other agencies informed about project progress and, specifically, where and how money is being spent. Hill also prepares reports and other documentation for presentation to the city and the mayor’s office. Financial reporting requirements continue to become more and more stringent.  “There is more fiscal accounting than ever,” Donnelly said.  For example, Donnelly’s team prepares regular reports on the airport’s unique and complex Facilities Maintenance contract.  “We helped to provide better reporting to the City of Philadelphia on the Facilities Maintenance contract, to show city officials exactly how money on that contract is spent.” The airport not only has to report to the City of Philadelphia.  Major airlines affiliated with the airport also want to be part of decision-making.  “The airlines are still, more than ever, looking at (financial) accountability: how the revenues coming into the airport are spent.”

Innovative Ideas

Both Donnelly and Griffin said one of the biggest benefits the Hill team brings is its innovation. For example, to cut costs, the Hill team helped to develop and implement a plan to close out dated contracts that had been left open.  “Closing out projects was often a challenge, with hundreds of tasks left open for the sake of convenience.  We helped to implement the use of on-call contracts, so that the airport could close out projects and close out tasks, resulting in savings back to PHL,” Donnelly explained.

Client Satisfaction

The DOA appreciates Hill services.  Hill has been awarded new four-year contracts each time they were up for renewal over the past 26 years.  “We believe that we are a valuable resource to the Division of Aviation and the Finance Department,” Griffin said.  “We’re grateful for the opportunity to work at and with the airport, and are proud to have contributed, even in a small way, to the airport’s growth and ongoing success.  It has been an invaluable experience for everyone on the Hill team.”  Both Griffin and Donnelly have seen many changes in the industry over the past two decades, and expect even more in the future. “The larger carriers often drive capital spending, wanting expanded facilities, newer terminals, upgrades to services, and the like,” Donnelly said.  Griffin agreed.  “Every major airport is undertaking billion-dollar plans to upgrade and keep up with both the size of the larger aircraft and the [increasing] number of smaller aircraft.  Regional airports also are seeing a need to expand to meet passenger demand,” he said.  “It’s a constantly changing industry, and a lot of airports have terminals that are in need of upgrading or replacement.”

“That’s where we come in,” Donnelly added.  “We understand the process, and we can provide guidance and ideas that help the airport manage both its funding and its operations, as well as manage the planning, design, and construction of facilities, so that even the most complicated capital projects are completed efficiently, expediently and within budget to keep up with that current demand.”

By Tricia McCunney