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Auckland Airport has brought forward its runway pavement replacement project while runway movements are at an all-time low

Runway pavement works at Auckland Airport get underway

Auckland Airport has brought forward budgeted and planned runway pavement replacement work with construction beginning on the $26 million project.


The outbreak of Covid-19 and the reduction in flights, particularly large long-haul aircraft, has presented an opportunity to have another look at the proposed construction windows, says André Lovatt, general manager of airport development and delivery.

“We’ve experienced a significant reduction in flights and passenger numbers, with aircraft movements currently 90–95% lower than a normal busy day. This project has been planned for some time, but it was clear that we had an opportunity to bring construction forward to the earliest available time while runway movements are at an all-time low,” Mr Lovatt says.

“Safety continues to be our number one priority, and I’d like to thank our aviation partners for working alongside us in order to create a robust plan for undertaking this work. As an industry we’re facing enormous pressure, and we have appreciated how these stakeholders have prioritised the collaboration needed to produce a safe and workable solution earlier than originally planned.”

Delivered by Brian Perry Civil, the project will create work for 150 people and involves the removal and replacement of 280 slabs, each 36 sq m in size, located on the 23L touchdown zone, the part of the runway on which most planes land. The work will see up to 120 truck movements daily, bringing in concrete and other material during the construction period. Around 12,000 tonnes of concrete – the weight of 21 fully loaded A380s – will be poured, measuring 500 mm thick.

Jet-blast winds from a B777 at takeoff can reach up to 300 kph. Workers will be over 200 m behind departing aircraft and protected by blast fences, which dilute and deflect the force of jet engines while the runway is in use. When working close to the blast fence, workers will move to a safe area when larger aircraft depart.

Displaced threshold method

Aircraft will still continue to use the existing runway, which will be shortened by 1.1 km during the 8 to 10-week construction period. This method, called a displaced threshold, is a common practice at airports worldwide and allows work to be carried out safely while aircraft continue to operate. 

Using an existing taxiway (contingent runway option) was also considered, but the added complexity of converting the taxiway to a safe, operational runway in a short timeframe meant it was not possible.

Mr Lovatt says that in normal circumstances, a displaced threshold method could result in the need for airlines to reduce aircraft weight, but with fewer fully laden aircraft flying, this is not anticipated.

“Carrying out slab replacement work is a normal part of maintaining safe airfield operations and one undertaken regularly by airports around the world. Our runway, which was originally constructed in 1965, has been developed and renewed over the years as part of a programme of work that follows recognised standards and is overseen by independent experts,” he explains.

Infrastructure development programme

The runway pavement replacement is a critical component of Auckland Airport’s much-reduced infrastructure development programme over the next couple of years, one which prioritises selected capital projects that are focused on essential safety and asset maintenance.

Auckland Airport has deferred the vast majority of its infrastructure development programme – a series of projects that had been designed to cater for growth in passenger numbers, projected to double by 2044.

“It’s extremely disappointing to put on hold much of the $1.2 billion worth of construction projects already underway around the precinct prior to the Covid-19 outbreak,” says Mr Lovatt. “But with no certainty around when the aviation market will recover, it just isn’t realistic to keep progressing these projects at this point in time.”

The safety case for the runway works has been reviewed and approved by the Civil Aviation Authority.

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