Denver Int'l Revamps Pavement Markings Program

Robert Nordstrom
Published in: 



Project: Pavement Markings Program

Location: Denver Int'l Airport

Consultant: Sightline

Audit Cost: $56,000

Staff Training: $17,000

Paint & Rubber Removal:

Waterblasting Technologies

Paint Trucks: EZ-Liner Industries; M-B Companies

Walk-behind Stripers: Graco

Glass Beads: Flex-o-lite, by Potters Industries; Swarco Industries

Paint: Swarco Industries

Grinding Teeth: Smith Manufacturing

Thermoplastic Markings: AirMark, by Flint Trading

Benefits: Investment in equipment & training are expected to lower long-term cost of markings maintenance.

As the third largest international airport in the world, Denver International Airport (DEN) has a large volume of pavement markings to maintain throughout its 53-square-mile footprint. Surfaces include 500 lane miles of roadway (inside and outside the fence), six runways totaling 76,000 linear feet, 46,000 parking spots and about 50 lane miles of underground tunnel used to transfer baggage between concourses. In addition, there are deicing pads, aircraft parking areas and holding lots for cabs, limousines, buses and courtesy vans.

Today, airport officials are proud of the way the airport's maintenance, operations and engineering departments cooperated to develop a new pavement marking and maintenance program. But the system didn't always run so smoothly.

"In years past, we would be scrambling all summer long to refresh the markings around the airfield," recalls Ron Morin, DEN's director of field maintenance. "That was no longer doable. We had areas where the paint buildup was unacceptable, and we needed to revamp the entire program."

The need to take action became more acute when FAA inspectors cited poor quality workmanship in some paint surfaces during the airport's annual airport certification inspection in August 2010. After inspectors suggested the airport put more emphasis on its painting operations, the heads of maintenance, engineering management and operations collectively decided to seek an outside expert to evaluate the airport's painting processes, equipment and overall markings program.

If It Ain't Broke …

Management hired Sightline, an airfield markings consultant, to audit the markings on the airfield and create a phased maintenance plan based on its results. Sightline staff spent two weeks in February 2011 inspecting and taking samples of taxiway and runway markings.

The $56,000 audit evaluated retroreflectivity, visibility, bead embedment, bead distribution, color, durability, adhesion, thickness, pavement condition and compliance. 

"We walked a good portion of the airfield inspecting the markings," recalls Bret Knox, DEN's operations manager. "Sightline put together a plan prioritizing work that needed to be done. Based on the priority level, we scheduled runway closures to get the work done."

Now, the maintenance and operations departments have a single plan to work from collaboratively. "Sightline gave us a starting point, and now our maintenance and ops staff know how to inspect the markings," Morin adds. "We understand the importance of paint removal and surface preparation. We're all on the same page."

Donna Speidel, principal of Sightline, cites "over-maintenance" as a problem at many airports.

"Airports have this mindset that if it's springtime, it's time to paint," Speidel explains. "Or if there's an inspection coming up, they must go out and paint everything to make it look fresh. But in many cases, that's over-maintenance, which leads to paint buildup, which leads to FOD (foreign object debris/damage)."


Investing in equipment, training and getting painted surfaces to a point where they can be maintained properly may increase initial costs, but the long-term expenses decrease over time because markings are painted only when necessary, she elaborates. When maintenance cycles are lengthened, material and labor costs decrease.

If markings are prepared properly and the right materials are applied, Speidel says markings outside of the wheel path should not have to be repainted for at least three years.

"That's when you start seeing the value of your investment," Speidel explains. "Within four to five years, savings should be between 35% and 50% of what was spent before on marking maintenance."

Provisioning for the Future

DEN invested in new equipment and staff training to get its new markings program up and running. Last year, the airport purchased a new EZ-Liner truck-mounted striper and a new Stripe Hog for paint and rubber removal. It also bought new line lasers outfitted with RoboBeaders® and additional grinding equipment. Specifications are currently being written for two more paint rigs to replace older models.

Morin puts the $600,000 Stripe Hog in perspective: "We removed roughly 1.8 million square feet of paint last year. If you multiply that by 67 cents per square foot, which is what a contractor charges, plus add in labor costs for escorting workers on and off the property, removing paint and rubber is quite expensive. We expect to recover the cost of that unit within a year."

The airport, in fact, recently received approval to purchase another paint/rubber removal unit. "Our upfront costs are high," Morin acknowledges, "but we're counting on savings down the road."

Knowing that new equipment is only as good as the people who operate it, DEN hired Sightline to conduct a three-day training course at a cost of $17,000. About 40 airport staff members attended - everyone from maintenance personnel and management officials to engineers, surveyors, inspectors and operations staff. Participants were taken onto the airfield and shown how to apply paint properly with their own equipment.

According to Morin, one of the most important lessons learned was that airfield painting is not something that just anyone can do. "Our staff got to hear that from professionals who performed with them side by side," he says. "That had a lot of value."

From the operations side, Knox says that the training provided a better understanding of what painters actually do. "In the past, we expected them to work fast - 'splash and dash,' so to speak. We learned that they need time to do a good job," he relates. "In the past, we didn't have a good understanding of what a marking was; now we do."

Unexpected Perk

Morin, Knox and assistant chief of operations Steve Edholm are all pleased about how the new pavement markings program

affected relationships among various airport departments.

"At the leadership levels of operations and maintenance, we've been working very hard and for many years on our relationships," Edholm reflects. "This program has added the final touch to our working relationship. Now, before we put markings down, a surveyor goes out and surveys the marking and [Morin's] group in maintenance and our group from operations approve that survey before any paint is put down. We never thought of doing that in the past. But as a result of this evolution in our markings program, the working relationships between ops and maintenance have blossomed."

Speidel, who has consulted with numerous airports over the years, praises DEN's proactive approach to markings maintenance: "They invest in their equipment and they invest in their people." She consequently considers its marking program "highly effective" and ranks them among the best in the industry. "That benefits the pilots, which in turn benefits everyone who flies," she concludes.



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