Second to none - Brisbane Airport's New Parallel Runway
1 September 2015
Brisbane Airport is the largest in the country by land size and the second-busiest capital city airport in Australia by aircraft movements. It’s also the third-largest airport in the country by passenger numbers, with more than 22.8 million people travelling through in 2014.
By 2035, that figure is forecast to blow out to 50 million, making a compelling case for the biggest aviation project in the country – Brisbane Airport’s New Parallel Runway (NPR).
Most people are just interested in making the plane and arriving at their chosen destination on time. While the NPR project will certainly ensure that happens, it’s also much more than that.
An engineering feat
The $1.35 billion project is an engineering feat and a game changer for the city.
The man leading it says it’s also being watched closely by other cities and aviation experts.
“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity project,” NPR Project Director Paul Coughlan said.
“Runways don’t come along very often. To have the ability to participate in, design and deliver a brand new runway ... often it’s just extending them and maybe widening them, but this is once in a generation, it’s certainly a great project.”
The scale of the project is immense. About 360 hectares of reclaimed swamp will form the base of the new runway. The site was cleared in August 2012 and had some 11 million cubic metres of sand pumped onto it. Over four years, the weight of the sand, along with 330,000 wick drains funnelling water to the surface, will ensure a solid starting point for the runway.
Mr Coughlan is a meticulous planner and admits the sheer scale of the project could be daunting for some.
“You could be overwhelmed, but in actual fact it’s just a series of construction packages,” he told Brisbane Marketing.
“I’m very methodical. You’ve got to be well planned. I always describe the delivery as like the 110m hurdle race. You’ve got to be aware of the end goal but you must focus on the next hurdle, because if you don’t get over it, you’ll never get to the end.
“We do a lot of visioning about the challenges ahead but then bring it back to what are the next steps, and this year the focus is on design.”
The runway should be commissioned and operational by 2020 and will be 3.3km long, 60m wide and include more than 12km of taxiways, navigational aids, airfield infrastructure and hundreds of hectares of airfield landscaping.
The first of three major contracts of works for the runway and taxiways components of the project should be awarded in early 2016, following the appointment of design consultants in January.
Mr Coughlan said the majority of the design work was being done by local Brisbane people, supplemented by experts from Melbourne, Kuala Lumpur and America.
Significant progress has been made on the final designs, which are due in late 2015 or early 2016.
Along the way there have been challenges, not the least of which was awarding the dredging contract and ensuring reclamation of the site without environmental impact or affecting port operations.
Mr Coughlan is understandably chuffed about successfully building a pipeline under the existing runway to enable sand pumping to occur, again without any impact on existing flight patterns.
Going forward, he said the next challenge would be signing the right contractor with the right skills to build the runway, which sounds relatively easy but not when you understand that runways are rare projects which are not constructed regularly.
“The biggest challenges include cost control, delivering on time and working within a live airfield,” he said.
Mr Coughlan said more than five firms had already been pre-qualified to bid for the runway tender, which looks likely to be awarded later next year.
Leaving a legacy
It’s a project that has captured the interest of other cities also looking to build new airport infrastructure.
“Melbourne and Perth have new runways to come and they are all watching and learning,” Mr Coughlan said.
It’s something the entire project team is mindful of.
“What drives my team is wanting to leave a legacy,” he said.
“The one thing Brisbane will have (on completion of this project) is a very efficient airport, because we’ll have two runways. And the beauty of our system is that the runways will be two kilometres apart, so we can run them as independent runways. It doubles the capacity straight away.
“Flights will be pre-allocated to both runways. If you’re flying to the south or the east or arriving from those ports you will be assigned the existing runway, and if you’re flying north or west of Brisbane or arriving from those ports, you’ll be on the new runway.
“That breaks the airspace and maximises the capacity of the new system.
“The other benefit we have is all our terminals run down the central spine, so an aircraft doesn’t have to cross a runway to get to and from a terminal and that’s quite unique. There are many airports of the world that have to do that because they’re constrained by size.”
The user experience
Mr Coughlan has lived and breathed the project for the best part of a decade already but appears as enthusiastic today as when he first signed on.
“Our focus has always been on (asking) how we develop the airport,” he said.
“You always have to have your user in mind.
“I’m like every other traveller. Once I am on the ground I am impatient. I want to get off the plane and through the terminal.
“(When the new runway is delivered) it will be one of the most efficient airports in the world.”
And the timing couldn’t be better.
“I personally think with the Queen’s Wharf announcement tourism will boom, particularly from our near Asian neighbours. It opens 12-18 months ahead of Queen’s Wharf.”
The NPR project is part of a 10-year, $3.5 billion investment in capacity-related infrastructure by Brisbane Airport Corporation.
In related aviation industry news, Brisbane has been named host city for the largest Australian-Pacific aviation conference of its kind next year.
CAPA – Centre for Aviation will stage its Australia Pacific Aviation Summit in Brisbane for the first time in August 2016.
The summit will bring airline decision-makers to Brisbane and provide the opportunity to showcase the city’s superior aviation, tourism and travel credentials.
To read the media release, click here.
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