If an airport’s runways are crumbling or utilities cannot withstand aircraft loads, the first instinct may be to replace them. But by completing one step first, you may be able to save money, minimize operational disruptions and reduce environmental impacts.
Every infrastructure project should begin with a condition assessment.
This assessment is a formal inspection that paints a clear picture of the infrastructure’s current condition. What is learned in that assessment about the pavements, facilities or utilities may change capital improvement plans and could lead to the discovery that replacement is not the only alternative.
Consider Ontario International Airport (ONT) in Ontario, California, where officials were planning to replace one of two primary runways — until a condition assessment and budget constraints led them down a different path.
A closer look at the pavement condition index rating found that the runway’s keel section — the main area where air traffic touches down — was the only section that required rehabilitation.
A unique jointing design made it possible to incorporate new Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) design standards with the existing nonstandard jointing configuration. Now in design, the reimagined project will require just one-third the concrete of a full replacement. It is also on track to be completed faster and with less operational downtime.
A similar approach was utilized when assessing more than 40,000 square yards of apron pavement surrounding the redevelopment of the former Braniff hangar at Dallas Love Field (DAL). Using a combination of destructive and nondestructive (NDT) testing, areas were identified that required only spot repairs and solutions were engineered to help extend the apron’s service life and save money.
Condition assessments also offer benefits when redevelopment projects impinge on underground infrastructure. Point cloud technology, or survey mapping, makes it possible to identify existing utilities on a site, which designers can then overlay with a conceptual plan of proposed improvements.
Camera and mapping technologies used at the same historic Braniff hangar in Dallas helped locate and assess the condition and capacity of underground utilities. Except for some sanitary lines, most were deemed in good repair.
A different challenge presented itself when United Airlines expanded its maintenance complex at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. The complex’s new larger footprint extended into green space that had formerly served as an equipment storage area. The existing large-diameter sewers, stormwater structures and other infrastructure at the site were not originally constructed to withstand aircraft loading.
A condition assessment indicated that it would be possible to increase the structural capacity of sanitary sewers with a cured-in-place pipe liner, while bridging over utility structures with reinforced concrete panels so they could be reused in place. While not inexpensive, the reinforcements were far less costly and disruptive than removing existing utilities and tie-ins and starting from scratch. This also afforded service to be maintained.
Of course, every aviation infrastructure project is unique. What works for one may not fit the needs of another. But that is also what makes condition assessments so invaluable. By drawing out the nuances of infrastructure condition and capacity, it makes it possible to conduct a solution that is more precise. This means replacing what needs to be replaced, rehabilitating what can be rehabilitated and leaving the rest undisturbed.