Orlando-Sanford Int'l Completes Award-Winning Runway Extension

Dan Vnuk
Published in: 

Located midway between Walt Disney World and Daytona Beach, Florida's Orlando-Sanford International Airport (SFB) has carved a niche for itself as the popular tourist area's secondary commercial airport. Although tourism-driven passenger traffic accounts for much of its volume, additional traffic from local flight academies, plus significant domestic, international, charter and freight operations, helped SFB rank as the third busiest airport in Florida and the 25th busiest in the country in 2012, as measured by flight operations. 

The airport also serves as the focus city for Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air. In August, Allegiant and SFB announced nine new non-stop locations - the largest service expansion in the airport's history. Since adding the new routes, Allegiant now serves more non-stop destinations than any airline in Central Florida.




Project: Runway Extension
Location: Orlando-Sanford (FL) Int'l Airport
Cost: More than $40 million
Funding: FAA; Florida Dept. of Transportation Aviation Trust Fund
Electrical Engineer: AVCON
Electrical Contractor: H.L. Pruitt Corp.
Airfield Lighting & Signs: ADB Airfield Solutions
Of Note: One of the first projects to include systems installed to new FAA EB-79 standards
Previous Duties: Until 1968, the airport served as a naval training facility for carrier-based aircraft. Later, it was designated as an emergency backup landing field for the Space Shuttle, but was never needed for such services.

With Orlando and Daytona Beach both less than an hour's drive from SFB, all of airport's service segments are important to the local economy, which is heavily oriented around tourism and convention business. Disruptions to SFB's considerable traffic flow are simply not an option - even when the airport needed to extend its primary air carrier runway, 9L-27R. 

The need for a longer primary runway was driven by the airport's increasing amount of wide-body international traffic, especially during summer months, when the planes have full loads of passengers and are heavy with cargo.

"In Florida, we get a lot of hot, humid days during our busy season," explains Airport President/Chief Executive Officer Larry Dale. "On high density altitude days, the aircraft couldn't carry cargo full loads, or had to re-arrange the loads because we were short on takeoff runway length."

Total cost of the project topped $40 million, and was funded by the FAA and the Florida Department of Transportation Aviation Trust Fund. The multi-phase project included the purchase of $22 million of nearby property and a 1,400-foot runway and taxiway extension. SFB also increased the runway's accelerated stopping distance, so there was a safety benefit to the expansion as well, adds Dale.

To minimize passenger inconvenience, SFB officials scheduled the runway work in an eight-month construction period that began during the area's rainy season and was sandwiched between peak European flight periods.

The $14 million paving portion of the project included relocation, replacement or modification to the runway; glideslopes for 9L and 27R; localizers for 9L and 27R; and a medium-intensity approach lighting system for 27R. 

Although the runway extension involved removing both of the airport's instrument landing systems, only three diversions occurred during the entire eight-month construction period, reports Dale. "It was important that we kept the airport functioning for takeoffs and landings during that time," he emphasizes.

Funding & Phasing

The initial development and subsequent extension of SFB's primary runway required the airport to separate most of its flight training aircraft from its air carrier runway, 9L-27R. Doing so provided a safer environment for both populations, Dale explains, and allowed crews to begin the next major task: extending the runway from 9,600 feet to 11,000 feet.

Planners determined that the extension would immediately increase operators' capacity to carry cargo, passengers and fuel, which will greatly enhance the efficiency and profitability of their operations at SFB.

Following a benefit cost analysis and environmental assessment, the FAA deemed the runway extension a viable project, and more than $40 million worth of grants were awarded by the FAA and Florida Department of Transportation for the design, construction and associated land purchases for the project. CPH Engineers, lead engineer for the project, enlisted the services of AVCON to design and oversee the electrical and Navaid work, and CDM Smith to design and oversee the paving.

Planners broke the large project into two primary phases. Phase 1 included work outside the existing runway safety area to limit interruptions to the airport operations. During Phase 2, crews shortened Runway 9L-27R to 7,754 feet and created a temporary turn-around. In addition to being an important regional airport, SFB's location makes it ideal for international charter flights and scheduled service. By extending the runway and relocating the instrument landing system/medium-intensity approach lighting system with runway alignment indicator lights, the airport allows its transatlantic operators to significantly increase their carrying capacity and operating efficiency.

Airfield Systems

Much of the project focused on installing and upgrading electrical components and Navaids. Individual elements included runway and taxiway lighting improvements associated with the extension, such as new runway edge lighting, threshold lighting, LED signs, LED taxiway edge fixtures and a new internally lighted wind cone.

"We used energy-saving LED light sources to the greatest extent possible," says AVCON Senior Aviation Lighting Specialist Carl Johnson. "We worked diligently with the airport's maintenance department to provide a reliable airfield lighting system that is easy to maintain and energy efficient."
According to Johnson, SFB has been using LED signs for about four years with great results. "The LED signs require significantly less maintenance than a sign with incandescent lamps," he explains.
Crews also installed new sign panels and LED signs at locations where existing taxiways were renamed. Seven connector taxiways between Taxiway B and Runway 9L-27R were renamed as part of the runway extension project, notes Johnson. The physical sign panel changes to support the taxiway name changes were closely coordinated with Sanford Airport Authority operations, FAA air traffic control, the contractor and engineer, he adds.

"For obvious reasons, temporarily having two taxiways with the same name was not an option," explains Johnson. "The renaming effort had to be completed in one night during a five-hour window. The new signs, conduit, cable and other components were installed prior to the renaming activity. New signs were kept covered until the name change took place. The entire team worked well together, and the taxiway name changes were a seamless operation."

The project was further enhanced with new FAA instrument landing systems and visual Navaids, which were designed in conjunction with the pavement improvements. Coordinating with the FAA on their design was critical, notes Dale. Having FAA engineering personnel on site during construction allowed the design team to respond to construction challenges immediately, notes Johnson.

On Runway 27R, improvements include a new medium-intensity approach lighting system, new precision approach path indicator (PAPI), relocated glideslope facility and updated localizer facility. On Runway 9L, improvements include a new glideslope facility, localizer facility and PAPI system.

"The compressed schedule required close coordination of all ILS and Navaid activities," recalls Johnson. "With everyone's cooperation, the ILS and Navaids were powered and ready to go on opening day." 

In addition, a new transmission system was designed to provide communication between the Navaid facilities and tower on a fiber optic network. The project also integrated the reconfiguration of lighting controls to the tower, which required detailed phasing to maintain Navaid operation during construction and minimize overall outage time.

In accordance with FAA Engineering Brief EB-79, Navaid items not fixed by function were located outside the runway safety area and object-free area. For the two PAPIs, AVCON coordinated the new standard with the FAA and equipment suppliers to locate the fused disconnect and transformer outside the runway's object-free area and the power control unit outside the runway safety area, as permitted by equipment design limitations. According to AVCON, this is one of the first new systems installed to EB-79 standards.

Happy Ending

Crews finished the multi-phase project on time and within budget, allowing the airport to reopen the runway on March 31, Easter Sunday. In addition, Sanford Airport Authority received the Airport Project of the Year award from the Florida Department of Transportation at the Florida Airports Council annual conference in July. In August, the FAA Airports Division presented the Airport Safety Mark of Distinction Award to SFB for the "safe and successful oversight" of its runway extension project. 

Beyond the awards and on-time completion for SFB's busy season, Dale is also pleased about the project's "green" components. "We worked with the St. Johns River Water Management District so that the design of the runway extension did not require the usual installation of a master storm water pond for the improvements," he explains. "The designers were able to show that sufficient treatment was performed by overland flow treatment to meet (the district's) requirements. Extensive modeling was performed to show the discharge rate requirements were met. This analysis also included a nutrient review of the improvements, which also showed a reduction in nutrient pollutants from the site after the improvements were put in place."


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