Piedmont Triad Int'l Welcomes FedEx

Jodi Richards
Published in: 

More than a decade ago, FedEx announced it would locate its mid-Atlantic hub at Piedmont Triad International Airport (GSO), in Greensboro, NC. And ever since, the airport and region have worked to prepare for the carrier's arrival.

"Any airport would consider having a FedEx hub on their property a real gem," says GSO director Ted Johnson. "FedEx is a well-respected, first-class company, and this gives you exposure throughout the world."

To accommodate the carrier, the airport added a new $150 million, 9,000-foot parallel runway (5L-23R), which opened January 2010. GSO's expansion project also includes rerouting a section of a roadway to allow room for the new runway, construction of a new interchange entrance into the airport, a new taxiway, re-grading the FedEx site and construction of the 165-acre, eight-building FedEx hub complex.

According to Johnson, the airport project totaled about $550 million - with FedEx putting up roughly $250 million, and the airport authority covering the rest.

Michael Baker Corp. has been on the project since 1998, assisting the airport with its proposal to land FedEx, says Larry Allen, P.E., vice president and principal of the firm's Greensboro office. After FedEx chose GSO, the company served as project and construction manager and was responsible for shepherding the project, including planning, permitting and environmental processes.

"We had cradle-to-grave oversight of the entire program - from preliminary planning and design phase through overseeing the design efforts for the airport authority," Allen describes.

The area's transportation infrastructure (existing and planned) was a big draw for FedEx, he notes. With two interstates near the airport, another less than an hour to the west and two more future interstate corridors planned to pass right by GSO, no other airports in the region and on the company's short list could compete, he explains.

Challenges, Opportunities

Environmental issues such as mitigating streams and wetlands affected by the new runway took 40 months to clear, Johnson says. The project impacted just over 21 acres of wetlands and some 14,000 feet of streams, reports Allen.

URS prepared the environmental impact statement for the project. And Michael Baker worked on design alternatives for it in conjunction with URS. After preferred design alternatives were chosen, the firm took them to a preliminary design phase and then handed them off to consultants for the final design.

Noise was also a concern. Because the freight company generally runs nighttime/early morning operations, there was apprehension about noise impacting residential areas surrounding the airport. A Part 150 study was conducted and some planes were routed away from certain residential areas. "Fortunately, they use mostly Airbuses and noise is not really the issue we thought it would be - at least not at this point," says Johnson.

Another of the project's key challenges, Allen says, was relocating the roadway and constructing an interchange. The trick was providing good access into the airport and to FedEx's site while maintaining access to the residential areas near the airport and minimizing the impact to wetlands and streams.

Facts & Figures

Project: Infrastructure Improvements

Location: Piedmont Triad International Airport

Total Cost: $550 million

New Runway: $150 million

Fueling & Glycol Facility Projects: $7.5 million

Program Manager:
Michael Baker Corp.

Environmental Impact Statement: URS Corp.

Runway Consultant: LPA Group

Taxiway E Consultant:
Talpert & Bright

Runway Lights:
ADB Airfield Lighting

FedEx General Contractor:
Kajima Construction Services

Fuel Farm & Glycol Facility: Pond & Company

Subsurface Explorations/Pavement
Evaluations: Kleinfelder

Earthwork: Vecellio and Grogran

Preliminary earthwork was considerable, with crews from Vecellio and Grogran moving the majority of nearly 15 million yards of dirt for the overall project, Allen reports. "They were the successful bid contractor on the FedEx site, so they brought all of their iron work for that project.As the other earthwork contracts were coming, they had the competitive advantage to go after those because their equipment was already here," he explains.

In addition to the sheer amount of earthwork, moisture issues also posed extra tests, Allen explains. Even in drought conditions, soil at the site was very wet, requiring a lot of drying time - especially for the deeper cuts.

On the positive side, almost all of the work was outside the airport operations area. Until crews connected the taxiways, the team didn't face any operational issues with the airfield. "We didn't have to worry about badging large amounts of contractors or coordinating too much with operations," Allen recalls.

Airport Activity

So far, the airport has not seen a great deal of additional flights, but it's definitely moving more tons of freight, observes Johnson. "Because of the recession and what is going on in the world today, [FedEx has not] cranked up quite as quickly as we initially thought they would," he notes. "However, we are starting to see a steady increase in freight here, and we're looking forward to what's coming in the next few years."

Cargo is up about 10% through April compared to last year, he reports. Each month, FedEx is carrying close to five million pounds of freight out of GSO and bringing in almost exactly the same amount.

The arrival of FedEx and attendant airport improvements encourage economic development opportunities for GSO as well as the region, Johnson says. Honda Aircraft Company, for instance, has a research and design facility at GSO and recently located its headquarters there. Johnson doesn't contend that the move was because of FedEx, but acknowledges that the freight company "didn't hurt" the process.

"We're talking to a number of other people right now about the possibility of coming to our airport," he adds.

GSO is currently home to TIMCO Aviation Services, B/E Aerospace, DHL Express, Mountain Air Cargo, UPS and TradeWinds.

Fueling FedEx

Major fuel and glycol facility work followed FedEx's decision to make Piedmont Triad International Airport its mid-Atlantic hub. Pond & Company performed $7.5 million in projects to meet the cargo carrier's fueling and glycol needs via a design-build contract with FedEx's general contractor, Kajima Construction Services, Inc.

A new fuel farm features two 200,000-gallon aboveground vertical jet A storage tanks, concrete ringwall foundations with liner and cathodic protection, concrete dike walls and concrete floor for containment and a pump pad. It also includes two 600-GPM truck loading positions and two 450-GPM truck off-loading positions on a concrete island with containment and a canopy, inbound filtration and associated electrical and controls. The facility features a building up-fit for a new fuel administration office facility, an oil-water separator for containment drainage and a new onsite aqueous film-forming foam fire protection system to protect the jet A storage tanks and loading/off-loading canopy area.

The second aspect of the project was fuel hydrant piping, including roughly 4,700 feet of 12-inch underground piping and associated isolation valves, as well as installation of high-point and low-point pits in the concrete apron area.

Lastly, a glycol storage and dispensing system was constructed. It includes aboveground storage tanks and glycol dispensing systems, complete with pumps, piping, valves, hoses, loading/off-loading positions, canopy and containment. Storage includes two 15,000-gallon type I glycol tanks, one 8,000-gallon type IV glycol tank and a 30,000-gallon type E36 deicing fluid storage tank. A new glycol equipment building houses pumps and blending systems.

Jeff Meier, vice president and project executive with Pond & Company, says design-build made "a lot of sense" for this project and provided tremendous benefit to the client. Time savings, teamwork (design and construction teams are within the same firm) and a single point of contact for the project owner are among the specifics Meier cites.

Design-build contracts are becoming more popular within aviation, he says. "There is absolutely a trend toward design-build," he notes. "Ten years ago, we didn't speak of it on the commercial side with airports. Today, I would say that close to half of the projects that we are looking at are design-build."


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