Huge Fabric-Roof Hangar Under Construction at Honolulu Int'l

Kristin Vanderhey Shaw
Published in: 

After years operating in cramped quarters, leasing space in other company's hangars and even working on aircraft outside in the rain, the maintenance staff of Hawaiian Airlines is looking forward to moving into more spacious facilities this summer.

The gargantuan 280,000-square-foot hangar currently under construction at Honolulu International Airport (HNL) will also house the airline's cargo operations and include smaller areas for support offices, customer service operations and loading docks. The facility's modular design includes a fabric roof to maximize natural sunlight and ventilation. Given the sunny, breezy island weather Oahu is known for, lights and air conditioning may be optional many days of the year.

The hangar project is part of HNL's modernization program. A new concourse on the mountain (Mauka) side of the airport is the centerpiece of the initiative. According to plans, it will include six wide-body gates or 11 narrow-body gates. Another key element of the program is airside enhancements that will allow Terminal 2 to begin accommodating Group 5 aircraft.

Project: Maintenance/Cargo Hangar
Location: Honolulu Int'l Airport
Tenant: Hawaiian Airlines
Size: 280,000 sq. ft.
Cost:  $85 million
Construction: Began April 2013
Scheduled Completion: July 2015
Hangar Manufacturer: Rubb USA
Planner/Preliminary Architect: MCA Architects
Architect of Record: RIM Architects
General Contractor: DCK Pacific Construction
Other Facility Functions: Loading docks, support offices, customer service operations
Of Note: Hangar has a steel frame & fabric roof made of woven polyester mesh permeated on both sides with a PVC coating to create a tight-fitting shell

"The airport's Modernization Program aims to accommodate current and future volume of air traffic, improve the operational efficiency, improve the passenger experience and enhance the safety and security requirements," says Caroline Sluyter, public information officer for Hawaii's Department of Transportation.

"Taxi lanes leading to the Mauka Concourse, which were not designed to accommodate simultaneous wide-body aircraft, are being widened. To make room for the taxi lane widening, existing support facilities, including the Hawaiian Airlines maintenance and cargo facility, needed to be relocated."

With 50 aircraft in its current fleet, Hawaiian is planning to add three more A330s by the end of 2015. By the end of 2020, the airline expects to add 16 new narrow-body A321neo aircraft and build its total A330 inventory to 19 aircraft. Hawaiian plans to have six new A330-800neos starting in 2019.

The airline clearly needed a larger, improved maintenance facility, and the airport modernization program afforded the perfect opportunity to expand its on-site space to accommodate a larger fleet, explains Jim Landers, managing director of maintenance for Hawaiian Airlines. Landers serves as an airline representative on the modernization project by assessing the impacts to airline operations and coordinating mitigation plans.

"A project of this magnitude requires commitment to extensive planning, forecasting, and assessment of the impact to the business, mitigating construction issues," says Landers. "We spent a fair amount of time understanding the challenges so we would minimize the impact on our customers."

Change of Plans

In 2009, HNL's modernization project was about a year behind schedule, and cost projections for completing the original design were running millions of dollars over budget. The State of Hawaii decided to go back to the drawing board, and Hawaiian Airlines stepped forward with an alternate idea for its hangar/cargo facility: a modular steel-framed hangar manufactured by Rubb USA.

Hawaiian Airlines contacted Rubb after seeing some of its other facilities, most notably the American Airlines hangar at Boston Logan International. Rubb structures have a steel truss framework, with a fabric roof made of woven polyester mesh permeated on both sides with a PVC coating to create a tight-fitting shell. The steel structure is hot-dip galvanized to create buildings intended to withstand great environmental pressures. The completed assemblies are immersed in a molten zinc bath to protect the inside and outside surfaces of the structure.

"This kind of structure lasts 25 years, which is comparable to something with a full metal roof, but at a cost advantage," says Gordon Collins, former director of marketing for Rubb. "We used a translucent fabric, which allows for more natural light. On sunny days, lighting might not even be needed, which saves electricity. When the membrane needs to be replaced, it costs much less to replace (than a) galvanized frame."

Collins compares Rubb's modular structures to giant Erector sets: "They can be easily dismantled and moved to a new site, which is an advantage over traditional construction."

Fabric roofs are particularly effective in Hawaii, where the marine environment is very corrosive for metal, he continues. "A fabric roof could have a longevity advantage, and the airline could see the long-term benefits from both budget and maintenance angles," he explains.

Another feature that Rubb officials hope their customers will never leverage: The fabric roofs are designed to disintegrate in a fire and allow smoke and heat to dissipate through the opening, thus keeping the main structure intact and minimizing the chances of total loss.

Before deciding on a Rubb hangar, Hawaiian Airlines was able to study the company's work in detail, right at HNL. The company built an air cargo facility for United Airlines just a few parcels from Hawaiian's current maintenance building. The unique facility houses a variety of functions for United, including cargo, aircraft maintenance, parts warehousing, ground service equipment maintenance, cabin services, departmental offices, training classrooms, a credit union, dining room and locker facilities.

MCA Architects programmed and designed the building, and then a design-build team carried the project through construction. "When the project came to us, the budget the state had established was about $75 million," recalls MCA principal Jack Miller. "The project had been previously budgeted at about $100 million, including utility and site work. So there was a shortfall, and they needed to shore it up to the budget number. We were brought in because of our expertise designing maintenance facilities, but largely because we have a good deal of experience working with Rubb - they are very affordable and good in terms of scheduling the projects, and a hangar could be erected fairly quickly."

After analyzing the financial and schedule specifics of United's experience, the team planning the Hawaiian Airlines hangar followed a similar game plan: a modular Rubb structure, with MCA as a key participant.

Making it Fit

Working together, HNL, Hawaiian Airlines, MCA and Rubb reviewed possible sizes, functions and locations for the new hangar. After considering several potential sites, the planning team selected a location on the west side of the airport.

Fitting the large facility on the tight footprint would have been challenge enough, but the building site was also constrained on all sides. In addition to a federal prison on the Mauka (mountain) side, Manuwai Canal on the Ewa (west) side and taxiways on both the Makai (ocean) and Diamond Head (east) sides, planners had to contend with a shallow water table in coral below, and limited airspace above.

Construction of the new hangar began in April 2013 and is scheduled to end in July 2015.  As planned, the new facility will consolidate Hawaiian Airlines' existing cargo operations, aircraft maintenance, loading docks, support offices and customer service operations into one integrated facility.

"Our old facility was built in 1962, and it was appropriate at the time; but we have simply outgrown it," reflects Landers. "Moving into the (new) structure allows us to right-size our growth." 

With a 347-foot-long maintenance hangar and 190-foot-long air cargo area (both at a clear span width of 275 feet), the Hawaiian Airlines facility at HNL is Rubb's largest clear span structure to date. Given its modular structure, the new hangar can be easily expanded by adding trusses and replacing the fabric roof structure, note Rubb personnel.

"We have high expectations that the new facility that will enable us to meet our current and near-term maintenance needs," says Landers. "We know the state of Hawaii is publicly committed to improving the airport system at HNL and across the state of Hawaii; and we view ourselves as an ardent supporter of these plans. The overall program and the new concourse will make a positive difference for our guests."


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