Quad Cities Airport Eliminates Airfield Bullseye

Quad Cities Airport Eliminates Airfield Bullseye
Mike Schwanz
Published in: 

When it comes to airfield safety, lengthening runways is often the answer. At Quad Cities International Airport (MLI) in Moline, IL, the opposite was true. The Midwestern airport recently resolved a long-standing safety issue by shortening its general aviation runway.

Until last year, MLI was one of the few remaining U.S. airports with three runways intersecting in the middle of the airfield, forming an undesirable “bullseye.” In addition to causing safety concerns and not passing muster with the FAA, the bullseye layout was inefficient. Commercial aircraft had long, circuitous taxi routes to reach the 10,000-foot primary runway (9-27) or 7,300-foot secondary runway (13-31). The general aviation runway (5-23) crossed both of the main runways, and general aviation pilots often encountered commercial traffic when navigating the intersection.

When Executive Director Benjamin Leischner was hired in 2018, addressing the airfield configuration was a top priority. “Even before I came aboard, the FAA had been putting increasing pressure on us to solve this issue,” he explains.


Project: Removing Airfield Bullseye

Quad Cities Int’l—Moline, IL

Strategy: Shorten general aviation runway to decouple it from 2 other runways; construct full-length parallel taxiway to primary runway

Concurrent Projects: Removing several taxiways; realigning & straightening 1 taxiway; constructing new taxiway end connector; relocating sewer lines; removing, relocating & reconfiguring airfield lighting, signage & nav aids, including wind cone & PAPI

Budget: $10 million

Annual Operations: 30,103 (34.8% commercial, 62.7% general aviation, 2.5% military)

Commercial Airlines: American, Delta, United, Allegiant

Construction: April-Dec. 2022

Design & Engineering: 
Crawford, Murphy & Tilly

Primary Construction Contractor:
Valley Construction

Pavement Rubblization: 
Antigo Construction

Pavement Markings & Removal: Ostrom Painting

Davenport Electric

PCC Joint Sawing/Widening/Sealing:
Quality Saw & Seal

Concrete Mix Supplier: Hahn Redi-Mix

Terrell Erosion Control

Benefits: Increased runway/taxiway safety; separating general aviation traffic from commercial operations; reduced taxi times for commercial air carriers

Targeting the Bullseye

Leischner promptly consulted his staff and engineering/design firm Crawford, Murphy & Tilly, and the project team developed a plan to reduce the general aviation runway from 5,000 feet to 3,500 feet. At this shorter length, 5-23 would be completely detached from the other two primary runways.

“As an active pilot who had often used this runway, I knew there was little need for a 5,000-foot general aviation runway,” Leischner explains. “By completely separating 5-23 from the commercial traffic, we would, in effect, create a new campus at the south end of the airfield to serve just general aviation and other clients.”

The FAA, however, did not want to fund a new project revolving solely around a third runway. In fact, much to the airport’s chagrin, it wanted to eliminate the third runway completely.

“We did not want to lose our third runway,” emphasizes Leischner. “It had been reconstructed in 2008, and was still in
good condition.”

Determined to save Runway 5-23, the project team devised a way to show FAA officials they could get more bang for the buck by decoupling the runways and adding several other improvements that could be completed at the same time. The key element of MLI’s revised proposal involved reconfiguring several shorter taxiways and creating one long, straight taxiway running parallel to Runway 9-27. The project team also proposed improving the sewer system; updating airfield lighting, signage, pavement markings and navigation aids; and adding a couple new taxiways.

The FAA approved the plan and agreed to fund the project with a $10 million grant. The bidding process occurred in mid-2021, and Valley Construction was awarded the contract.

 Site work was slated to begin in April 2022, but before that happened, Leischner had to make his second big sales pitch—this time, to airport stakeholders during town hall-style meetings. 

“The general aviation pilots originally were concerned about Runway 5-23 being shortened,” he explains.  “When I made my presentations, I recall sharing that most general aviation aircraft that need 5,000 feet of runway will typically opt for our 7,000- or 10,000-foot runways anyway. Being able to avoid the extra runway crossings altogether appealed to them. In the end, we faced little opposition to the change.”

The four commercial airlines serving MLI (American, United, Delta and Allegiant) were largely unaffected by the shortening of Runway 5-23, since they used the two other runways. Large corporate jets were able to use one of the two longer runways if necessary, Leischner notes. This was an important option for aircraft flying to and from John Deere’s world headquarters only three miles away, as well as customers at Elliott Aviation, a large maintenance, repair and overhaul shop on the field.

Commercial airline representatives were worried, however, about the eight-month construction period needed for the work. Appeasing those concerns with continual communication before and during construction was a key objective for the project team. “In late 2021 and early 2022, we frequently met with airline officials,” states Joseph Goetz, the airport operations manager. “They knew from the outset that there would be significant night work, and that the airport would have to be closed from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. each night, for a 45-day period in early fall 2022.

“It took a lot of coordination to ensure that the commercial airlines’ schedules were not disrupted,” he continues. “We worked hard to accommodate them. For example, American Airlines had a daily flight from Dallas that was due to arrive at 11 p.m. every night. If it were delayed for more than 15 minutes, American agreed to cancel it, or divert it to
another airport.”

Construction ran 24/7 throughout that phase of the project, with work progressing simultaneously in several different areas. Despite this, there were very few disruptions in commercial airline schedules. “It took a lot of coordination between the airport, the consulting firm and the contractor to make this happen,” Goetz remarks.


The project, which ran from April to December 2022, had a long gestation period. Travis Strait, a project engineer with Crawford, Murphy & Tilly, notes that various plans concerning the triple runway intersection had been discussed for many years.

A significant amount of airfield construction occurred from 2004 to 2012, including full reconstruction of the primary runway, 9-27. During most of that project, Runway 5-23 was closed. When it reopened in fall 2012, a spike of runway incursions occurred in the following months. Aircraft were exiting Runway 9-27 onto Runway 5-23 or Runway 13-31 instead of the intended taxiways.

Following recommendations from project engineers, the airport closed three taxiways plus one portion of another, and installed shoulder markings on Runway 9-27. After the changes, no intersection incursions occurred from 2015 to 2017. However, when the FAA released its Runway Incursion Mitigation program in 2015, MLI was at the top of the list of airfields that needed to be improved. Simply put, a more permanent solution was required.

In 2017, Crawford, Murphy & Tilly recommended shortening Runway 5-23 to 3,500 feet to decouple it from the triple runway intersection. The firm’s analysis also suggested full removal of several taxiways; realignment and straightening of Taxiway A; and construction of a new Runway 23 taxiway end connector.

Besides the taxiway work, engineers recommended other improvements that could be performed simultaneously, such as relocating various sewer lines and removing, relocating and reconfiguring airfield lighting, signage and navigation aids, including the wind cone for Runway 23 and a precision-approach path indicator. End-of-project elements included applying new pavement markings and landscaping restoration.

Airport officials signed off on the proposal, and a $10 million FAA grant was received in September 2021. Valley Construction spent the winter of 2021-2022 planning for the project and was ready to begin work in April 2022.

Key requirements included:

  • Separating Runway 5-23 from the triple runway intersection without impacting commercial air service. Much of this work was consequently performed at night, over a 45-day period.
  • Maintaining functionality of Taxiway A, the primary taxiway for Runway 9-27, for as long as possible, to minimize operational impact.
  • To promote sustainability, pavement that was removed was rubblized in place, crushed on-site and reused as the aggregate base for new concrete pavements. This base was 18 inches deep, with a 15-inch concrete top layer.
  • Maintaining close coordination of runway closures as all runways needed to be closed at some point during the project.

Construction Challenges

A number of issues cropped up as construction got underway in spring 2022. One of the first happened before work actually began. Like other companies working on projects in many industries, MLI’s main contractor encountered supply chain issues. “We were unable to obtain the pipe materials we wanted, so we had to order an alternate product for pipe materials,” specifies Adam Hass, executive vice president with Valley Construction.

The project specs also required a fully compacted base. “This was an unusual requirement,” Hass remarks. “In most cases, a contractor is obligated to do a base that was 95% to 98% compacted. In any case, we were able to do this.”

Another challenge was pouring concrete during an intense heat wave in July, when paving began. “We had to start early, and the concrete supplier, Hahn, had to use different mixtures to adapt to the heat,” says Hass. “They did a good job helping us navigate the challenges.”

During the eight-month construction period, various taxiways and other surfaces were closed to facilitate paving operations. Hahn used a ready-mix concrete with standard 28-day curing period, which necessitated closing affected surfaces for at least that long. When Taxiway A closed for a month, commercial airlines used alternate taxiways to get to the main runways.

General aviation pilots had their own challenges. Since Runway 5-23 was at the epicenter of the project, it had to be shut down for a good portion of the construction period. During that time, general aviation aircraft used runways 9-27 and 13-31.

Tough Schedule

Night work spanned from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. Each night, the tower notified contractor supervisors after the last plane had landed, and crews quickly went to work. “We first set up lighted markings at the ends of Runway 9-27, and would work until 4 a.m. or so,” Hass explains. “After that, we spent an hour cleaning every surface with brooms. The airport would send an official out to inspect everything before the airport reopened at 5 a.m.

“It was a hectic schedule for our team during the first few days of the 45-day closure period,” he adds. “Eventually, everyone involved found their groove, and we became more efficient. I am pleased that we were never late to reopen every morning.”

Besides paving, crews completed much of the electrical and sewer work at night as well.

Valley Construction had worked at many airports before, but MLI was a particularly demanding project, Hass relates. “This was a huge project, with a lot of moving parts. We probably used up to 60 workers at one point or another, and some 50 power units. I am proud that we were able to meet our deadline, with minimal disruption of the commercial airlines’ schedules.”

With work completed in December 2022, minor landscaping followed this spring.

A Win-Win

After being in operation with the new runway configuration for several months, Leischner has received positive feedback from airport stakeholders.

“The general aviation pilots like having their own campus, away from all the commercial airline traffic,” he explains. “We also have a flight school and two flying clubs, and it is safer for their users to avoid the bullseye intersection. And finally, our commercial airline clients appreciate the reconfigured Taxiway A, which has sped up their taxiing time on the ground. I am confident that in the future, all pilots will have a more enjoyable flying experience here.”


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