Putting the Design-Build Delivery Method to Work for Airfield Pavement Projects

Tim Fredlund, P.E.

Aversion to the Design-Build construction methodology may be related to one of the most costly phrases in design and construction: "This is how we have always done it." Most of us in the airport industry cringe to varying degrees when we hear those words; but as humans, we are all creatures of habit and naturally tend to resist the unknown or unfamiliar. We mitigate risk, personally and professionally, by sticking with the "tried and true," even though we know in our hearts that innovation and efficiency are not often found in routine process and procedure. It is this avoidance, in conjunction with a general lack of experiential understanding, that influences many to miss prime opportunities to deploy the Design-Build methodology.

Owners, engineers, and contractors alike often associate Design-Build construction exclusively with complex projects such as new terminals, terminal expansions or other comprehensive facility improvements. In doing so, we potentially fail to realize the tangible benefits that the method can afford for other projects. This is not to suggest that the Design-Build method is well-suited for any and all capital projects, but typically, it fails to make the shortlist when teams consider how best to bring airfield projects from vision to reality.

Design-Build procurement is nothing new to the architectural/engineering/construction industry at large, having gained much traction in many market sectors during the past 15 years through varied U.S. government procurement systems. Generally, however, it still lags well behind the historical mainstay of government construction contracting-Design-Bid-Build. There are, of course, countless cases over the years where the Design-Build method has delivered success for airport owners and their design-construction teams. But as with the national industry trend, these projects are a minute minority.

Tim Fredlund, P.E.
Tim Fredlund, P.E., is a principal with Pond & Co. who has worked in the design and construction sector for more than 20 years. As the company's Aerospace/Aviation program manager, he directly serves the needs of commercial, general aviation and Department of Defense airport clients around the globe.

As it relates to airports, part of this, again, is founded in perception-the idea that Design-Build project delivery is more complicated and therefore less viable for the wide range of airfield pavement projects. There are also unwarranted beliefs that airfield Design-Build projects would somehow fail to meet the criteria for FAA Airport Improvement Program funding, and that airfield projects could not possibly benefit from the many advantages of implementing of a Design-Build approach. 

These advantages, which are applicable across all project types, include potential for accelerated procurement/construction completion and advancement of innovation in construction techniques. Other common benefits include time and cost savings through a combination of expedited mobilization, reduced claims and increased contractor responsibility toward delivering the defined project scope. In essence, a well-partnered and well-executed Design-Build project has the potential to save airports time and money, both of which are finite, critical resources when it comes to project delivery.  

The judicious use of limited resources goes a step further, though, in that many contractors see this opportunity to save time as a means to improve their bottom lines, therefore producing mutually beneficial relationships. In addition, closely linking design professionals and construction contractors can result in fewer design and construction issues, mitigate schedule-busters and keep all parties on track for partnered success. 

There are potential challenges to the Design-Build process as well, including a contractual disconnect between the project owner and its design professional, as well as increased urgency in the submittal review process. Both aspects can compound the uncertainty that owners may have about embracing the concept of a contractor-led project delivery process. 

These challenges notwithstanding, the rewards for attempting a Design-Build delivery far outweigh the risks. Additionally, there is plenty of guidance about the process available within the industry, including research from the Innovative Pavement Research Foundation and Transportation Research Board. Established pathways for AIP-compliant implementation are outlined by the FAA in the AIP Handbook and its 2009 draft advisory circular on Design-Build for airfields.  

The Design-Build project delivery approach merits further consideration by more airports. Uncertainty and unfamiliarity are best overcome by education, experience and for some, a leap of faith into the relative unknown. 

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