Calgary Int'l Builds Canada's Longest Runway

Jennifer Bradley
Published in: 

Stretching for a full 14,000 feet (4,270 meters), the new parallel runway at Calgary International Airport (YYC) in Alberta is the longest runway in Canada. But Runway 17L-35R is just one component in YYC's $620 million Runway Development Project (RDP). Other key elements include four taxiways, a concrete apron and two underpasses. Putting it modestly, the airport's RDP has been a major undertaking. After a year of design and three years in construction, Runway 17L-35R opened in late June.

Planning for the airport's newest runway began as far back as the 1970s. By zoning the land and protecting airspace back then, Transport Canada, which owned and operated all Canadian airports at the time, was decades ahead of current traffic increases spawned by the Canada's booming oil industry. While Transport Canada still owns the land, the Calgary Airport Authority now manages the facility under a long-term lease.

Project: Runway Development Program
Location: Calgary (Alberta) Int'l Airport
Program Components: Parallel Runway; 2 Full-length Taxiways; 2 Cross-field Taxiways; Concrete Apron; 2 Underpasses
Total Cost: $620 million
New Runway: 17L-35R (Category III)
Length: 14,000 ft. (4,270 m)
Taxiways: 2 partial -length (4,267 m) parallel taxiways; 2 cross-field taxiways running perpendicular to new & existing runway
Rapid Exit Turns: 3 in each direction
Ground Broken: April 2011
Runway Opened: June 28, 2014
Earthwork: Crews moved roughly 7.5 million cubic meters of dirt
Peak Labor: 500 workers simultaneously onsite
Of Note: New runway is longest runway in Canada; first LED High-Intensity Runway Edge Light for a 60-meter wide runway in the Americas; first low-protrusion DTS/DTC 8-inch taxiway centerline in the Americas; first Gen IV ALCS Graphical User Interface in Canada; first Surface Movement Guidance and Control System operation with BRITE III in Canada.

Project Team
Program Manager/Engineering Design Manager: AECOM/Hatch Mott MacDonald
Principal Consultant: Associated Engineering/CH2M HILL
Construction Manager: PCL/Parsons/Dufferin Joint Venture
Earth Moving Contractor: North American Rock & Dirt
Storm Drain & Utility Installation: Volker Stevin Contracting
Duct Bank Contractor: Somerville/Black &
McDonald Ltd. Joint Venture
Concrete Paving Contractor: Dufferin Construction
Underpass Form/Place/Finish: PCL Construction
Aggregate Supply: Lafarge Canada
Airfield Lighting, Control & Power: ADB Airfield Solutions
Airfield Electrical: TRISTAR/Black and MacDonald Joint Venture
Emergency Trucks: Oshkosh Corp.
LED Guidance Signs: Liberty Airport Systems
Runway/Taxiway Base Cans: Jaquith Industries
Photometric Testing: Tailor Made Systems
Airfield Pavement Markings: Hi-Lite Canada ULC
Standby Generators: WAJAX

Located in the booming city of Calgary, YYC welcomed over 14.3 million passengers in 2013 and ranks as one of the country's fastest growing airports. But its altitude - 3,557 feet (1,084 meters) above sea level  - and corresponding reduced air density require it to have longer runways for fully loaded aircraft to take off, especially on hot summer days.

After feasibility studies were completed in the mid 2000s, the airport hired AECOM, in partnership with Hatch Mott MacDonald, in 2009 to manage the huge project and conduct the environmental assessment and preliminary design. Next, it selected a joint venture of Associated Engineering and CH2M Hill as the engineering design firm of record, and a joint venture of PCL/Parsons/Dufferin was then retained to serve as the construction manager. Sig Undheim, YYC's RDP director worked closely with YYC management staff and the assembled RDP team.

Welcome to the Team, Red

YYC made a significant effort to assemble the best team, and then fostered a team approach among the various players, notes Dave Anderson, head of the project's prime consultant joint venture. "That was part of their plan from the start, and they implemented it in order to be successful and get the project done within the time and overall project budget," he explains.

The team, in turn, took a team approach to solving problems, adds AECOM Project Manager Marty Shenfield. The tools YYC used to engage team members made people feel welcome and broke down barriers right away, which created a very positive work environment, he relates. 

"We have our share of differences," Shenfield acknowledges. "The way we resolve those differences includes a mutual respect for the various personality types, needs and interests. Understanding what people bring to the table helps you be more effective in your communication."  

The collaboration that resulted allowed the team to complete the enormous project on time and on budget, he emphasizes. "By all means, there were things we didn't anticipate," recalls Shenfield. "But the team approach is what allowed us to progress through those challenges."

Having all the major team members share office space onsite in Calgary for the duration of the project was vital to its success, he adds: "It goes a long way for effective communication and allowed us to really focus on the project needs."

Dealing With Dirt, Weather & Surprises

After crews moved utilities, communications and high-pressure gas lines, excavation began in April 2011. Balance was the key during excavation operations, notes Anderson. With crews digging up 7.5 million cubic meters of dirt and distributing it elsewhere onsite, ensuring there wasn't a huge surplus or deficit in any given area was no easy task. Since ground stability was another key issue, the runway embankment was built early to allow adequate time for consolidation settlement to occur prior to installation of pavement on top.

AECOM's Shenfield agrees: "Just those simple secrets of how to deliver mass quantities of materials is a big challenge. It was a huge effort to accommodate the logistics of temporary roadways, haul roads, permanent roads and permanent construction."

YYC's Undheim characterizes the overall project schedule as "aggressive." Two consecutive wet springs complicated matters for crews working in the airport's clay soils, and a major flooding event in the Calgary region last June shut down water supply and cement powder delivery to the on-site concrete batch plant for a week during the summer construction season.  

"We had challenges, and we overcame them," reflects Undheim. "There were times last year one could really question whether or not we'd make our planned opening day in 2014. 

The short construction seasons imposed by Canada's cold winters proved to be a bigger issue than usual, notes Anderson. For the first two years, 100 pieces of earth-moving equipment worked around-the-clock. At the peak of construction, 500 workers were onsite simultaneously.

Due diligence and research preceded the airport's decision to build a concrete runway, notes Undheim. "We did a lifecycle assessment on asphalt versus concrete as our surfacing material and established concrete as a more enduring product with lower lifecycle costs," he explains. Last year alone, more than 300,000 cubic meters of 435 mm-thick concrete was placed above a 200 mm cement-stabilized base. Up to 1,000 truck movements a day delivered base gravels to the site, to meet the 500,000 cubic meters of granular materials required, Undheim chronicles. Products that don't significantly change volume during freezing temperature were used to stabilize materials and prevent frost damage from the cold Calgary winter. 

Completing the massive concrete work from June through October, when the weather was best, was an "absolute incredible achievement," says Anderson. "There certainly isn't a concrete project in Canada that has that magnitude of work done in a single construction season."

Lights in LED

As a Category III runway, 17L-35R requires inset lighting and offers a zero-decision height for pilots. This feature allows aircraft to land safely in any weather condition, explains Undheim. "It's almost becoming a requirement to stay competitive in the industry," he notes. "Airlines want to know they have the ability to land under all weather conditions."

Anderson considers the new runway's electrical and lighting stand-out aspects" of the project. In total, more than 435 miles (700 kilometers) of electrical and communication cables were laid.

Winter weather conditions were "absolutely horrendous" for the crews pulling cables and installing lighting fixtures, recalls Undheim. Many of the base cans for in-pavement light fixtures froze, and technicians had to thaw them to connect the cables and install the fixtures.

The LED units not only reduce YYC's energy costs by more than 50%, they also eliminate monthly re-lamping expenses, note project team members.

The View From Below

Two new underpasses (beneath Taxiways J and R) were significant projects on their own. Design and geometry were critical, as the underpasses must support the world's largest aircraft and the load transfer between the runway and taxiways.

One underpass includes a unique ramp heating system that allows facility residents to use the underpasses 365 days per year, notes Anderson. The system includes built-in snow melting components that automatically turn on and off based on readings relayed from temperature sensors. 

Between the underpass projects, runway construction and other significant airside work, life has been anything but boring at YYC. (Nav Canada also opened a new control tower in May 2013.) Soon, attention will shift to the passenger terminal, which is slated to nearly double in size. Plans include a $1.4 billion concourse that will be five stories high and cover 2 million square feet when complete. What better way to accommodate the Canadian and international passengers landing and taking off from the airport's new runway?


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