Toronto Pearson Int’l Sees Benefits of Runway Rehab Project

Toronto Pearson Int’l Sees Benefits of Runway Rehab Project
Kristen Rindfleisch
Published in: 

After an extensive rehabilitation completed in a single construction season, the second-busiest runway at Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) officially reopened in November 2022. The $80 million project—one of the largest in YYZ’s history—was meticulously planned and executed by the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) to have minimal impact on travelers and the surrounding community in Mississauga, ON.

Runway 06L-24R needed to be fully repaired because the concrete sub-structure was beyond the end of its service life after nearly six decades of harsh weather and heavy use. Originally designed for aircraft such as 747-100s, the 3-kilometer (1.86-mile) runway now serves larger, heavier aircraft like the Boeing 777-300ER and Airbus A340-600—and at much greater volume than when the runway was built in 1963.

While the last full-width, full-length resurfacing took place in 2007, a single-depth milling and repaving of the critical keel section in 2018 allowed the GTAA to delay a full rehab until 2020 or 2021. When that approached, however, the unexpected and unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic prompted planners to change courses. Initially, they recommended a full-depth mill-and-pave project to extend the runway’s lifespan another six to eight years; but in summer 2021, they reverted back to the idea of a complete rehabilitation, which included concrete slab replacement within the center 24 meters of the runway. Scheduling the project for 2022 allowed crews to first complete critical work on Taxiway H and resurface Runway 15L-33R in 2020 while the pandemic severely depressed passenger volume. “It was pretty important that we get that concrete rehab work completed,” recalls Andrew Payter, GTAA manager of Airside Coordination and Airport Operations. “We took advantage of the pandemic to do it with lower traffic levels.”


Project: Runway Rehabilitation

Location: Toronto Pearson Int’l Airport

Runway: 06L-24R—3 km (1.86 miles) long, 60 m (197 ft.) wide

Key Components: New asphalt with checkerboard structure to deter cracking; LED lighting; upgraded stop bars; new signage

Project Scope: 330,000 sq. m. (3.5 million sq. ft.)—180,000 sq. m (1.9 million sq. ft.) of runway; 150,000 sq. m. (1.6 million sq. ft.) of taxiways & connectors

Cost: $80 million

Partial Funding: Federal Airport Critical Infrastructure Program

Construction: April 4, 2022–Nov. 18, 2022

Concrete Used: 39,800 cubic m. (1.4 million cubic ft.)

Design, Contract Administration & Site Representative: Avia NG Airport Consultants

General Contractor: Dufferin Construction

Internal GTAA Teams: Airfield Electrical, Airfield Maintenance, Airport Operations, Civil Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Environment & Sustainability, Executive Team, Regulatory Programs, Security Operations, Slot Coordination, Stakeholder Relations

Inset Lighting: Eaton

Elevated Edge & Approach Lights, Control System Software Upgrades, Additional Inset Lighting: ADB SAFEGATE

Land Use, Technical Engineering, Aeronautical Information: NAV Canada local operations; NAV Canada Ottawa

On-Site Concrete Plant: Dufferin Construction

Cement Powder Supplier: Ashgrove Cement

Asphalt Supplier: Fermar Paving Ltd.

Concrete & Asphalt Aggregate Suppliers: Dufferin Aggregates; Drain Brothers

Asphalt Milling: Roto-Mill

Line Painting: APMI

Demolition: Priestly Demolition

Concrete Cutting: Basic Concrete Cutting

Thermoplastic Painting: Hi-Lite

Tack Coats: Royel

Geotechnical Field Work, Quality Assurance, Material Testing: Golder Associates

Electrical Installation: Tristar Electric

Joint Sealing: Roadmaster

Key Benefits: Enhanced safety; reduced maintenance costs

The $80 million project encompassed about 180,000 square meters (1.9 million square feet) on the runway plus an additional 150,000 square meters (1.6 million square feet) of additional taxiways and connectors. Partial funding came from the Airport Critical Infrastructure Program, a federal stimulus initiative to help mitigate the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure critical investments in safety, security and mass transit connectivity.

To execute the rehabilitation of Runway 06L-24R, GTAA partnered with Avia NG Airport Consultants for engineering design, contract administration and site representation; Dufferin Construction as the general contractor; and Tristar Electric for electrical installation. Avia coordinated with various GTAA teams, including Engineering, Compliance, Operations, Maintenance and Management.

“This runway is more than a marvel of modern engineering, as amazing as it is,” said GTAA President and Chief Executive Officer Deborah Flint in a prepared statement. “It paves the way for the next 30 years of YYZ stimulating Canada’s economy by facilitating trade, foreign direct investment, tourism and business. This runway is more than a place where planes land and take off; it’s emblematic of a brighter future, both for Toronto Pearson and Canada through the global connections and economic activity it enables.”

Eyes on the Horizon

The planning and construction teams focused on maximizing longevity and decreasing upkeep costs for YYZ. “The whole runway was checkerboarded, reflecting and cutting all the concrete joints on top of new asphalt to control the cracks and hopefully minimize future maintenance,” explains Sam Goddard, project superintendent with Dufferin Construction.

GTAA Senior Project Manager Simon Ho notes that the service life of the substructure and concrete base is 30 years; with proper maintenance, the asphalt is expected to last eight to 10 years. 

While Runway 06L-24R was closed for rehabilitation, GTAA’s Electrical Group used the opportunity to install all-new electrical systems and add another electrical duct bank under the runway to provide additional capacity and resiliency. In addition, the Regulatory Team denoted and named the holding bays on each end of the runway, which had not been done previously. Beyond completing its primary pavement work, Dufferin installed new sub drains to address drainage issues in the area.

All runway lighting on 06L-24R was upgraded from incandescent fixtures to LEDs, which are brighter and require less power and maintenance; GTAA also upgraded directional signage and stop bars between the runways to improve safety. Critical aircraft holding positions were redesigned in response to a 2018 Transportation Safety Board investigation of runway incursions.

Michael Belanger, GTAA director of Aviation Safety, Regulations and Performance, notes that two new concepts were deployed in an operational trial to improve visibility and safety for arriving aircraft approaching the hold positions. The option used on two exits (D4/D5) has fixtures on one side of the taxiway that are rotated 30 degrees toward oncoming aircraft. The other option, locally referred to as the “hockey sticks,” has the hold position angled 30 degrees on one half of the taxiway toward flight crews. “This increases the visibility of the position from approximately 75 meters prior to the hold position in the original configuration to approximately 500 meters in the angled configuration,” says Belanger.

In both cases, airfield designers updated fixtures to LEDs and doubled the number of inset lighting fixtures across the hold positions. Additionally, the new light fixtures can function as solid red or alternating yellow, depending on operating conditions.

Sustainability Measures

Designers were driven by the goal of enhancing overall safety while reducing the airport’s environmental impact. Throughout the project, crews used energy-efficient machinery and equipment and actively looked for ways to recycle and repurpose materials.

Concrete from the existing runway was crushed on site and repurposed as granular sub-base for the new runway, thus reducing project waste. Overall, more than 25 million kilograms (55 million pounds) of concrete were diverted from landfill sites. Asphalt material milled off the runway were recycled and used to build approach roads, which also reduced the need to truck materials off site.

The sheer volume of concrete used on the project added up quickly. “An estimated 39,800 cubic meters (1.4 million cubic feet) of concrete was used to reconstruct the runway, the equivalent of 16 football fields or 87,300 square meters (939,689 square feet),” says Diana Turavani, GTAA manager of Airside and Infrastructure Engineering.

The concrete mix design included recycled materials to reduce the cement content, which reduces energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Cement manufacturing produces approximately 8% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, so any efforts to reduce the cement content in concrete mixes has a positive environmental impact. The concrete mix included a general use Portland-limestone cement, which further reduced greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 10% compared to traditional general-use cements. 

An on-site concrete batch plant reduced the amount of new concrete that had to be trucked into the project site, thus decreasing associated greenhouse gas emissions. Paving crews used machines that applied material in 12-meter-wide swaths (vs. the industry standard of 6 meters). The team chose this strategy to condense the project timeline, decrease emissions and create a high-quality finish on the runway.

Approximately 1,800 incandescent lights from the old runway were upgraded to LEDs, leading to a reduced carbon footprint and lower operating costs. More than 25,000 meters (82,000 feet) of new lighting cable was installed to support the new lights and 84 new directional signs that were installed.

Planning and Predicting

Design and planning for the project occurred from 2020 through early 2022. The lead design firm, Avia NG, developed several renditions of design plans, and Dufferin provided input regarding phasing strategies. GTAA leaders were presented with six different concepts based on their goal to keep full access to the adjacent Runway 06R-24L. Internal teams worked closely with Transport Canada and NAV Canada to analyze effects on capacity; other primary focus areas were ensuring that phases were not too large, did not overlap and preserved full access to 06R-24L. Operational constraints required Runway 06L-24R to have at least two rapid-exit taxiways available in both landing directions at all times, which also helped reduce occupancy time on 06R-24L.

GTAA leaders selected a strategy with 11 phases and presented that plan to stakeholders for approval. Given the project scope and overall timeframe, there was much discussion about whether work should span one or two years. “The more phases you add, the longer the duration is going to be, and ultimately our goal was trying to get this completed in one year,” says Payter, reflecting the Airside Coordination and Operations perspective. The project team managed to expedite a few phases to make the timeline fit within the one-year period that GTAA requested.

“Our planning was not only focused on the runway project,” Payter adds. “We needed to ensure crane operations at neighboring projects like Bombardier, Woodbine Casino and hotel developments did not impact our overall runway system.”

Because the 06L-24R project would also affect taxiways at the end of the runway, GTAA reduced runway slots from 90 movements per hour to 72 movements per hour in the spring, 77 in the summer and 72 in the fall. “That took a lot of coordination from other GTAA teams and the airlines,” Payter remarks.

To minimize impact to flight operations, Dufferin worked closely with GTAA Operations to ensure critical surfaces remained available throughout the runway and taxiway work.

The phasing plan required tactical steps to swiftly follow one another along specific sections of the runway, often with multiple construction disciplines operating at the same time. “It almost resembled an assembly line,” Goddard recalls. “You saw the demolition process start and then all the rebuild processes were happening behind it. You could see all processes of the operation happening all at once within a 750- to 1,000-meter stretch. It was pretty cool.”

Crews worked simultaneously on material removal, subgrade preparation, cement-stabilized base and concrete installation, asphalt paving and electrical work.

Construction began April 4, 2022, and was completed Nov. 18, 2022. “We used every one of these days,” Payter remarks.

When estimating capacity for various phases, GTAA project teams factored in the potential for bad weather, but crews ultimately enjoyed favorable work conditions for more than seven months. “It is unusual for a project of this magnitude to be completed in one construction season,” says Carmine Bello, Avia NG’s lead engineer for the runway rehab. “Although the good weather played a major factor in completing the work, without the commitment and dedication of all the partners from start to finish, the project would not have been as successful. It was a crowning achievement for all of us.”

Minimizing operational impact was a key priority throughout the project. “Losing a rapid exit or high-speed taxiway reduces the runway capacity of the adjacent Runway 06R-24L, so phasing was critical,” Payter emphasizes.

Moreover, planners had to be cognizant of a large project on the north side of the airport (a new manufacturing facility for Bombardier) that is impacting YYZ’s other main runway, 05-23.

Community Outreach

The GTAA Stakeholder Relations team consulted with elected officials and local residents regarding the project’s impact on airport neighbors. The team shared information on the GTAA construction/community web page and posted notices in various local publications. The Airports Authority even sent out a branded ice cream truck to hand out free treats as a thank you to the community for its patience while crews completed their work.

“We undertook a robust communications and community engagement campaign beginning fall 2021 and into early 2022 leading up to the start of the work,” says Kathryn Hanford, GTAA manager of Community Outreach and Programs. The campaign aimed to provide nearby residents with a comprehensive understanding of the project scope and reassure them that any impacts would be temporary. It also outlined noise mitigation measures and emphasized that the project was essential for maintaining the safety and well being of passengers, airport employees and neighboring communities.

Key components included:

  • an official ground-breaking ceremony with Canada’s Transportation minister and local elected officials to demonstrate political support for the historic construction project;
  • a dedicated website to keep community members updated;
  • monthly e-newsletters sent to about 12,000 subscribers;
  • game-oriented social media content to add an element of fun, including trivia contests on the airport’s Instagram and internal communications channels with $25 gift cards for prizes;
  • a series of four automated phone messages geo-targeted to 165,000+ households around the airport that notified residents about the project and expected impacts;
  • informational postcards delivered to 50,000+ households in communities that would be most affected by aircraft noise during construction;
  • three full-page wrap print advertisements in local papers to build awareness among 500,000+ local residents; and
  • 34 virtual briefings to inform residents and elected officials about potential impacts and ongoing progress.

Challenges Met

During construction, contractors encountered supply chain issues for items such as LED fixtures due to the lingering effects of the pandemic. “Everything that used to be six to eight weeks delivery was now 10 to 12 weeks, so we had to find workarounds,” Bello recalls.

While many other local projects experienced delays for cement and epoxy-based products, the runway rehabilitation at YYZ fared better because Dufferin’s parent company, CRH Group, also owns Ash Grove Cement. “We were able to control our own supply,” Goddard explains. “Because of our relationship and our ownership, we were able to mitigate some of that by being able to source our own products.”

In the end, early procurement and other mitigation measures allowed the project to remain on schedule.

The teams also faced labor stoppages from truckers and demolition workers during the project. “Our local 183 and 783 unions came to a relatively fast solution, so that didn’t have too much impact,” Goddard comments. “But the local demolition union ended up going on strike for roughly three or four weeks, which put a pretty big hindrance on the demolition process ahead of us.”

Avia NG worked with Dufferin and stakeholders to find alternative methods for transporting materials to the work site and to mitigate the challenges of operating with one union still on strike. “We actually had picketers at gates, so it created quite a bit of an impact on day-to-day operations,” Bello recalls.

Soil conditions at the project site posed a soggier type of hurdle. Crews encountered wet and unstable material during excavation. This posed risks to the budget and, more importantly, the schedule, Turavani recalls. “The project team worked collaboratively to determine a solution and provide direction to the contractor nights, weekends or within the same business day to ensure the contractor was not delayed,” she reports. Fortunately, suitable backfill material was available from on-site stockpiles at YYZ.

Key Takeaways

Payter underscores the importance of understanding the full scope of a runway rehabilitation project at least 18 months out, but preferably further in advance. This allows time to deal with capacity fluctuations, changes to air service or impacts to critical infrastructure. He also suggests involving stakeholder relation teams, because “even the best plan will cause some disruption, and the stakeholder and community relations teams will help mitigate concerns with surrounding communities.”

Turavani urges airports to begin the design process as early as possible and to explore more rehabilitation strategies or methodologies than they may think necessary. She also favors minimizing required phases to reduce construction time and improve pavement service life.

Bello emphasizes the value of planning and coordination. “Bringing everybody to the table, all the stakeholders, and getting input from them early on, goes a long way,” he says, noting that it’s much easier to make changes on paper than after construction starts.

Using data to inform decision-making is a key element for planning, Belanger adds. “Detailed analyses of historical weather patterns, runway occupancy times, runway exit usage and aircraft performance were all integral elements informing capacity planning and phasing decisions,” he relates.

Like data analysis, geotechnical reports and on-site reviews can improve planning and associated mitigation efforts, says Goddard. “Be prepared for anything and everything,” he advises, adding that it helps to have extra materials and backup options identified early in the process.

Finding the right team is critical, Goddard adds. “You’ve got to have one that wants to collaborate together and work very long, rigorous hours,” he says. “Spending a little bit of money to get the job done the way that you want it and in the right timeline is worth it.”

In 2025, the GTAA will undertake the full rehabilitation of Runway 05-23, which will again require considerable planning to mitigate operational impacts.


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