Construction Projects Abound at Paine Field

Robert Nordstrom
Published in: 

The recent $8 million reconstruction of the general aviation runway at Snohomish County Airport, aka Paine Field (PAE), is not the facility’s largest project by a long shot, but it was important nevertheless.
Located about 30 miles north of Seattle in Everett, WA, the airport houses flight departments for the Boeing Company and a number of its key subcontractors. But 650 other entities and individuals base aircraft there as well.

“While the (general aviation) runway reconstruction is a smaller project, relatively speaking; it is, quite frankly, of great concern for the bigger percentage of airport users,” explains Superintendent of Operations Bruce Goetz. “Half of the airfield activity takes place on our general aviation runway. Boeing represents a small percentage of flight activity, but generates a huge percentage of the revenue that allows this airport to exist.”

The rehab was also the latest project in one of busiest construction periods in the airport’s storied history. Between 2009 and 2012, PAE spent $27 million reconstructing its main 9,010-foot runway. Last year, it built and leased a $35 million facility that supports Boeing’s Dreamliner production. (See sidebar.)



Project: Runway reconstruction, roadway work and tenant construction activity
Location: Snohomish County Airport,
Paine Field, Everett, WA
Cost: Runway reconstruction, $8 million
Funding: $7 million Airport Improvement Program grant; $1 million local match
Engineering, Design and Construction
Reid Middleton Inc.
General Contractor: IMCO General Construction
Electrical Engineering: Elcon Associates
Geotechnical Engineering: GeoEngineers
Quality Assurance Materials Testing:
Mayes Testing
Electrical Contractor: Sail Electric Inc.
Lighting Manufacturer: ADB
Paving Contractor: CEMEX
Striping & Thermoplastic Markings:
Roadway Barrier: Peterson Brothers
Of Note: Airport completed public & privately funded projects totaling about $80 million throughout 2013, including runway reconstruction, roadway work & Boeing-related facilities

It’s been a very busy period at PAE, notes Deputy Airport Director Bill Dolan. In addition to completing the runway and building projects, crews constructed/reconstructed seven roads, upgraded the airport’s stormwater drainage system, re-roofed three buildings, built nine acres of new ramp, laid one mile of new pipeline for jet fuel, and constructed 300,000 square feet of new tenant buildings.

Problem Solved

With more based aircraft and hangar space than any other airport in the state of Washington, PAE was more than ready for a new general aviation runway. Runway 16L-34R was not only experiencing age-related asphalt deterioration, it also had another, more unique, issue that needed to be corrected.

The issue was borne out of original design compromises made when the runway was constructed in 1986. “In the 1980s, we had a relatively short air traffic control tower — about 90 feet tall,” explains Dolan. Designers consequently elevated the central section of the runway to allow controllers to see aircraft over the roofs of storage hangars. The compromise worked for years, but created some “tricky grades coming off the runway that were less than ideal,” recalls Dolan.

In 1999, a new 181-foot tower was constructed, which eliminated the line-of-sight problems for controllers. But there was still a problem: The hump was tall enough to create line-of-sight problems for aircraft operating between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m., when the tower shuts down.

“Aircraft moving from the central ramp to the east ramp couldn’t see each other when entering the runway,” explains Dolan. “They could see each other when they got to the top of the runway and they should be announcing their intentions on the common traffic advisory frequency. We never had an accident, but, bottom line, we were less than thrilled about the situation.”

The recent reconstruction of Runway 16L-34R presented PAE with a valuable opportunity to remove the hump. By lowering the central section of the runway four feet and raising the north end two feet, designers measurably improved visibility for aircraft on the parallel taxiways, Dolan reports.

Approximately 53,000 square yards of asphalt were demolished and stockpiled for later use on airport road projects, and 75,000 cubic yards of soil were removed to lower the runway profile. Nearly 30,000 cubic yards of materials were imported for the new runway subgrade, and 10,000 tons of P-401 asphalt paving were set in place. Crews also installed 30,000 linear feet of underground drainage pipe, 18,000 linear feet of conduit and wiring, 277 LED taxiway lights, 43 LED runway edge lights and 10 LED mandatory airfield hold signs.

In addition, a section of PAE’s east perimeter road was lowered about seven feet to resolve ongoing problems with vehicle height restrictions in the runway’s protection zone.

Underground Surprise

PAE closed its general aviation runway on May 20 and moved traffic to its main runway, 16R-34L, to facilitate reconstruction. Reid Middleton, the project’s design, engineering and construction management firm and general contractor IMCO General Construction had 46 calendar days to complete all of the runway work.

“The timeframe to remove the old runway and replace it was extremely tight,” reflects IMCO Senior Project Manager March Rocha. “Normally, for a project like this, we would easily be at 180 calendar days.”

Project planning was key to meeting the deadline, Rocha emphasizes. “One of the biggest challenges was getting all of the import materials staged ahead of time,” he recalls. “On Day One, when the runway closed, we had 25 trucks and trailers hauling 12 hours a day to stockpile materials. It took us three weeks to import and stockpile, and one week to complete full demolition of the old runway.”

With construction on schedule to meet the July 18 runway opening, the project hit a snag. When IMCO crews ground pavement off to lower the east perimeter road, they found fiber optic cable just beneath the surface. Although the existence of the cable was not a surprise, its shallow depth was. Project designer Reid Middleton knew that a large bank of fiber optic cables servicing the Boeing facilities lay under the road and had asked the local utility company to specify the depth of the conduit. The utility dug three 13-foot exploratory holes, found nothing and gave crews the go-ahead.

The utility company had dug in the wrong spots, explains Reid Middleton Project Manager Karla Kendall.

Lowering the cable to the proper depth was not an option, because that would have required shutting down service to Boeing for three to four weeks. So Reid Middleton went back to the drawing board and devised a new solution. Designers separated the northbound and southbound lanes, and created a concrete meridian to contain the fiber optic cables.

“It added to the cost and delayed the completion of the project considerably,” Kendall recalls. “Although the runway work was completed on time, we couldn’t open it until August 29, when the road work was done.”

On the upside, the reworked design allowed the airport to protect its largest tenant — without disastrous financial consequences. “We were very fortunate to have a great working relationship with the people in the FAA’s district and regional offices,” Dolan explains. “They worked with us and came up with additional funds for much of the added costs we incurred.

“We had a contractor with a lot of expensive equipment on site and needed to offer a direction; and that direction couldn’t be ‘cut the cable.’ In hindsight, it felt like everything was moving in slow motion. But everyone worked together to resolve the problem and get us a finished product.”

The team’s lemons-into-lemonade perseverance moved the project forward, he reflects, and the new 3,004-foot runway has been getting a workout ever since.

Boeing is Big Business at Paine Field

Built in 1936 as a Depression-era Works Progress project, Snohomish County Airport/Paine Field (PAE) in Everett, WA, has been home to the Boeing Company since 1966. In October, the company expanded its on-field presence once again with a new $35 million facility for its four Dreamlifters, the giant aircraft that land at PAE and unload assemblies for the production of 787 Dreamliners at the company’s nearby plant.

The new Dreamlifter Operations Center sits on approximately 18 acres and includes a 26,000-square-foot pre-engineered building that serves as an equipment shelter. It also houses a three-story 31,600-square-foot maintenance complex with 11,600 square feet of office space. Airside, the center includes 13 acres of airfield pavement and hydrant fueling locations for three wide-body aircraft.

In addition to acting as home base for the four Dreamlifters, the new facility also provides maintenance services to the “racks” that hold the Dreamliner parts while in transit. With the new facilities, Dreamlifters are able to land, unload, refuel and depart in less than two hours.

The four-engine Dreamlifter, which is a converted Boeing 747-400, provides 65,000 square feet of cargo space — one of the largest cargo aircraft in the world by volume. The aircraft transports Boeing 787 fuselage sections to PAE from the company’s facility in North Charleston, SC. It also ferries wings from Japan to North Charleston and PAE; and flies fuselage subsections from Italy to North Charleston.

In June, B/E Aerospace, a Boeing subcontractor that manufactures passenger cabin products for commercial and business jets, opened a new $30 million facility at PAE. The company leases the facility from Capstone Partners, which built it on a 15-acre ground lease with the airport.

Aviation Technical Services, the largest third-party aircraft inspection and repair facility in North America, is based at the airport as well.

The airport is also a tourist destination that draws about 250,000 annual visitors to the Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour, the Flying Heritage Collection, the Historic Flight Foundation and the Museum of Flight’s Restoration Center.

An economic impact study conducted by Washington’s Department of Transportation found that the airport and its tenants have a $19.8 billion economic impact on the region and state. In addition, the airport and its associated businesses generate $79 million in tax revenue to the local and state governments. 



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