Lehigh Valley Int’l Opens the Doors on New Bulk Hangar

Lehigh Valley Int’l Opens the Doors on New Bulk Hangar
Ronnie Wendt
Published in: 

Even though COVID-19 put obstacles in its path, Lehigh Valley International (ABE) never veered from its mission of adding more hangar space. Last July, the eastern Pennsylvania airport opened a new 54,000-square-foot hangar to accommodate soaring passenger traffic and newer corporate jets that weigh up to 100,000 pounds.

When the project began in October 2018, ABE had experienced 26 consecutive months of steady growth in traffic. With 120 based aircraft and an average of 65,000 general aviation operations per year, ABE had even stopped accepting new aircraft due to a lack of hangar and apron space.

But turning business away was not something Executive Director Thomas R. Stoudt was willing to accept. Instead, he wanted to help boost economic and jobs development for the entire Lehigh Valley region. “Hangar space is extremely limited in the Northeast corridor,” he explains. “We needed a hangar that could hold the next generation of corporate jets. We were getting larger and heavier aircraft and had a lot of interest in finding a place to put them.”


Project: New Bulk Hangar

Location: Lehigh Valley (PA) Int’l Airport

Total Size: 54,000 sq. ft.

Class A Office Space: 2,700 sq. ft.

Cost: $16.3 million

Funding: $8.8 million grant from Pennsylvania Dept. of Transportation Bureau of Aviation

Construction: Oct. 2018-June 2020

Features: Clear-span design; hangar floors & apron designed for aircraft up to 100,000 lbs.; 3 vertical-lift Megadoors (115 ft. wide, with 28-foot height clearance); fire protection system that uses fluorine-free foam; gas radiant heat with make-up air unit & heat recovery ventilation; bathrooms & private showers in hangar area; overhead coiling doors for large equipment or vehicle access 

Design Engineer: C&S Companies

General Contractor: Grace Industries, Inc.

Electrical Contractor: Boro Construction

Plumbing Contractor: Guy M. Cooper, Inc.

HVAC Contractor: Shannon A. Smith, Inc.

Hangar Doors: ASSA ABLOY Entrance Systems

Key Benefits: New capacity to accommodate growing passenger traffic & newer/heavier corporate jets

So Stoudt and his team added Hangar 11, the first new hangar built at the two-runway airport since 2006. Now, ABE has more than 250,000 square feet of bulk storage hangar space and 50,000 square feet of T hangar space. General aviation traffic is served out of the airport-operated FBO, separate from commercial service at the main terminal. 

An $8.8 million grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Bureau of Aviation helped ABE complete the $16.3 million project. The grant provided funds needed to offset costs for site development and the design and construction of the hangar, apron and adjacent parking lot.

Sen. Lisa Boscala cut to the chase about the project when she spoke at the groundbreaking: “Through this prudent investment of state funds, we will now be able to compete against other airports, such as Morristown and Teterboro, for corporate clients.”

Meeting Customer Needs

The new clear-span facility features a host of amenities designed to appeal to corporate and upscale general aviation aircraft owners, including 2,700 square feet of Class A office space and hangar doors that accommodate the latest generation of corporate jets. The entire building has gas radiant heat with a make-up air unit and heat recovery ventilation to increase interior comfort and reduce operating costs. The hangar area includes bathrooms, private showers and overhead coiling doors for large equipment or vehicle access. The hangar also includes compressed air hookups and an advanced security camera system.

Three Megadoors facilitate access for large aircraft and vehicles. Ryan Meyer, director of Planning and Programming for the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority, explains that the project team opted for vertical lifting doors clad in durable fabric because they work better in Snow Belt states like Pennsylvania. “We found that sliding doors or other track systems require heating loops and other temperature control devices in the pavement and tracks to prevent snow and ice buildup in the winter,” Meyer says. “Fabric doors fold up like a roman shade; there’s no track system. We’ve been very pleased with their performance in our other hangars.” 

Pierre Varlamoff, aviation sales for ASSA ABLOY Entrance Systems, adds that eliminating the door pockets and rail systems required by traditional horizontal rolling hangar doors helped the architect maximize the available space and design a more compact, efficient and cost-effective facility.

At 115 feet wide, each of the Megadoors can accommodate the Bombardier Global Express 8000 and Gulfstream G650.

Outside the hangar, ABE added a new 77,000-square-foot apron designed to withstand aircraft that weigh more than 100,000 pounds.

The airport sought design input from current customers, aircraft operators on the waiting list and its business development department. “We got a lot of feedback regarding office space and where to position it in the hangar,” Stoudt says.

Many of the seven other bulk hangars at ABE have offices located in the front, so customers and visitors must pass through them to access the aircraft and apron. Hangar 11 has a corridor running between the offices and hangar portion to eliminate that issue. The corridor extends from the landside parking lot to the airside apron and includes windows that look into the hangar. 

Adding radiant heat, temperature controls and a high-tech circulation system helped improve air quality when the doors are closed, which is important to customers, Stoudt adds.

Prospective tenants also wanted a facility that could house larger, heavier aircraft. This prompted the design team to consult geotechnical engineers because ABE is located in a region known to have Karst geology, which is more prone to sinkholes given the presence of underground limestone rock formations.

“We had to make the concrete slab in the hangar thicker with additional reinforcement — so if a sinkhole were to form under the hangar itself, it would not jeopardize the integrity of the bay,” Meyer explains. “Making the concrete over 12 inches thick alleviated these safety concerns, while also accommodating the heavier aircraft. We also worked with engineers to make sure the hangar was tall enough and able to support wind and snow loads.”

Because customers often prefer to wash their aircraft inside, the airport equipped each bay of the new hangar with its own trench drain. Cold water is provided from a domestic supply, with two hookups and 100-foot hose reels.

Meyer notes that the trench drains can collect fire suppression foam as well as wash water. “This way, the foam goes into one of the detention basins, not the groundwater,” he says.

Safe and Secure

The high cost of large jets drove home the importance of tight security. (The list price for a new G650 is $65 million, and used models start at $39 million.) Project engineers consequently outfitted Hangar 11 with an access control system that requires cards for entry, and a closed-circuit TV monitoring system that links to the Airport Operations Center.

“We provide 24/7 monitoring,” says Stoudt. “Providing a high level of security for our corporate clients was really important to us and them. It’s always an essential element of every hangar, but we provided it in a way that doesn’t feel cumbersome. We were very thoughtful about the locations of security cameras. The cameras have a very low profile, and we placed them in unobtrusive places, so they are not the first thing you notice when you walk in.”

The facility’s fire safety system is particularly noteworthy. In fact, Hangar 11 is currently the largest hangar in the nation to be protected by fluorine-free fire suppression foam supplied by Solberg Versagard, a division of Perimeter Solutions.

In 2018, Pennsylvania’s governor issued an executive order creating a PFAS Action Team to devise strategies to limit use of per- or poly-fluoroalkyl (PFAS)—the substances in firefighting foam that have been linked to health problems if they enter the groundwater.  

As the state addressed this controversial public health issue, ABE was already on a mission to reduce PFAS runoff. “We worked with our aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF) chief, the Airport Authority and the FAA to make this improvement,” says Stoudt. “I believe it is one of the largest hangars to include a fluorine-free system, rather than more common high-expansion foam.

“This was really important to us from a sustainability perspective,” he adds. “We wanted to work with products that met the latest specifications while moving away from older products that posed a potential health risk.”

The Lehigh Northampton Airport Authority partnered with C&S Companies of Syracuse, NY, to develop an engineering plan for the fire sprinkler system. The team based its design on the Pennsylvania Uniform Code and various National Fire Protection Association requirements.

“There are a number of considerations that needed to be incorporated into the design of a fluorine-free foam system,” says Meyer. “Fluorine-free foam requires different valves and other components versus those used in a PFAS foam system.” 

The resulting system includes:

  • two 2,600-gallon horizontal bladder tanks
  • 5,200 gallons of 3% fire suppressant foam concentrate
  • seven proportioners with hardware that supplies foam to the overhead sprinklers and hose reels
  • five hose reels located throughout the hangar for use by firefighters

Plans for Growth

With Hangar 11 completed, ABE’s marketing team sprang into action sending information to prospective clients throughout the New York metropolitan area.

Once the new facility is full, the airport does not plan to rest on its laurels. Stoudt notes that officials are on a constant quest to improve, and recently completed a new airport master plan that will consider capacity requirements for the next 20 years.

“We have other areas on the airport that are identified for future corporate hangar development,” he says. “So as demand grows, we can add more hangar capacity.”

If growth continues at the current pace, the airport may not wait another 15 years for its next new hangar.


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