Upgrade in FAA Designation Prompts Upgrade of Facilities at Bellingham Int'l

Author: 
Greg Gerber
Published in: 
March-April
2010

When Allegiant Air announced plans to expand service to Bellingham International Airport in Washington, it started the ball rolling on several facility upgrades, including construction of a $2.2 million aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF) station.

The airport, located just 20 miles south of the Canadian border, has grown consistently in size and scope in recent years (see sidebar below). With more flights scheduled into and out of Bellingham, airlines started using larger aircraft, which, in turn, put additional demands on the airport's emergency response equipment. When the Federal Aviation Administration changed the airport's index from Level B to Level C, its equipment and facility failed to meet guidelines for the larger designation.

Level B airports, for example, are required to have a truck that carries 1,500 gallons of water, 210 gallons of foam and 500 pounds of dry chemicals. Level C airport sneed double that capacity.

"Allegiant Airlines operates some equipment that falls under the Level C category," explains Daniel Zenk, Bellingham airport manager. "When we got into aircraft of that size more frequently, and when Allegiant announced it would increase the frequency of flights into Bellingham, we knew we needed to do something to better accommodate the growing airport."

Housing bigger equipment, however, was going to be a problem. "The existing station could barely fit one apparatus in the bay, let alone two," Zenk says. "Plus, in an emergency, the crew had to scramble through some pretty tight spaces to get into the equipment and get the equipment out of the building."

In addition to needing more equipment space, the airport also had to comply with new Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations. Crew quarters were cramped and the training area was considered inadequate.

Because the old station was landlocked by the airport's international arrival building, the only option was to seek a new location and construct a new building.

Better Site, Bigger Building

Design work on the new station started in October 2007, after 10+ years of mulling about possible expansions to the previous facility. The timeline proved beneficial, says Zenk, because the new building is designed to more stringent post-9/11 requirements.

The new ARFF station sits along the border of the opposite side of the airport - away from the hustle and bustle of arriving aircraft and support vehicles. Crews responding to emergencies no longer have to contend with ground traffic when pulling out of the station.

Zenk and his staff, along with airport consultant WH Pacific, selected three potential sites for the new ARFF facility. Each site was rated on factors such as response time and the number of turns required by apparatus to reach the mid-point of the farthest runway. The FAA ultimately selected the final location, notes Zenk.

In creating the building, Carletti Architects employed an aeronautical theme, incorporating a curved roof over the apparatus bays, which are situated between two wings. An aluminum exterior makes it visually compatible with nearby industrial buildings.




Traffic is Up in Bellingham

Unlike many of its domestic counterparts, Bellingham Int'l Airport is on a steady trajectory of growth - increasing from 170,000 passengers in 2006, to 240,000 in 2007 and 280,000 in 2008. Continuing its upward trend, the Washington airport finished last year with a total passenger count of 328,000.

"We have nearly doubled airport traffic in just over three years," reports airport manager Daniel Zenk.

Most of the increase, Zenk explains, came from the north. Because Bellingham is located 20 miles south of the Canadian border, its airport is an attractive option for Canadian residents who want to avoid the surplus tax of approximately $100 associated with flying out of Vancouver.

An increase in direct flights from Allegiant Air, Horizon Air and Alaska Airlines the last few years has also helped attract Canadian travelers - especially from lower British Columbia, which has an overall population of nearly 1 million people, notes Zenk.

"For many Canadians, it is just as fast and often cheaper to cross the border and catch a flight out of Bellingham," he explains.

Corporate traffic is also up, reports Zenk - another factor he attributes to Bellingham's proximity to Vancouver and British Columbia.

Steve Isenhart, of Tiger Construction, appreciates the cost-effective nature of the station's design: "It consists primarily of concrete walls and a metal roof. Yet, it blends in well with the surrounding area and is big enough to do the job it is designed to do."

On a practical level, the new 7,800-square-foot building was designed to accommodate up to three apparatus, notes architect Peter Carletti. Space was also allocated for a larger kitchen, training room, crew quarters and offices. Because crews work eight-hour shifts rather than "24s," sleeping quarters were not included. But unfinished space is available if the need arises, notes project engineer Adam Fulton.

The new training room is equipped with audio/video equipment and Internet access. It also includes more room for crews to spread out equipment.

The entire facility is secured by an 8-foot fence topped with razor wire. Visitors are buzzed in through a designated entrance and escorted into the office. To enter other areas such as crew quarters, they need to clear another level of security with a staff member who has a special access card.

The previous ARFF station that served the airport for many years currently sits empty, but probably won't remain vacant for long. With enplanements rising, Zenk says it's only a matter of time before the facility is converted to a different use. When that happens, the airport will be in the enviable position of having extra space in the terminal building to handle increased traffic.

With the new ARFF station open since last July, equipment is next on the list. According to Zenk, the airport in considering the purchase of a second 1,500-gallon water/foam/dry chemical truck, per Level C requirements. It's also preparing to launch a runway rehabilitation and parallel taxiway widening project. Both enhancements will help meet FAA regulations for airports servicing Category 4 aircraft.




FACTS AND FIGURES

Project: Aircraft Rescue Firefighting Facility

Location: Bellingham (WA) International Airport

Cost: $2.2 million

Size: 7,800 sq. ft.

Architect: Carletti Architects

Structural Engineer: DCI Engineers

General Contractor: Tiger Construction

Civil Engineer: WH Pacific

Mechanical Engineer: Rice Group

Electrical Engineer: K-Engineers

Impetus: Upgrade in FAA designation required airport to upgrade emergency response capabilities accordingly

Subcategory: 
Emergency Operations

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