Utilizing Design-Build for Heavy Airfield Infrastructure Projects

Schedules, budgets and phasing are important aspects of major pavement infrastructure projects at an airfield — and all these aspects are continually getting minimized.


By Jason Fuehne, Manager, Airfield Infrastructure, Burns & McDonnell

Read The Article

Airport executives cannot afford to have a runway or taxiway out of service for a long duration without feeling the effects of a major operational disruption. When impacts to schedule and airfield operations are on the line, all construction options should be on the table. With design-build delivery providing owners a long list of benefits, this method should be considered before moving forward on heavy airfield infrastructure projects.


With design-build delivery, the principal decisions regarding heavy airfield infrastructure projects are identified and addressed at the 30% design level. This earlier phase review is critical for identifying and addressing potential issues, especially when these decisions are under heavy scrutiny by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Major items — including topographic surveying, geotechnical investigation, subsurface utility engineering (SUE), pavement design, life cycle costs, programming cost estimates, Construction Safety and Phasing Plan (CSPP), and finalized geometric layouts — are already required at this preliminary design level. The primary design elements have been developed and approved at this point of the project. The next logical step would be to break ground on construction.

The ever-changing atmosphere at airports means there is always a reason to complete a construction project quickly. Whether it is a new flight or airline schedule or a major construction event, these projects need to be completed in an accelerated fashion. By performing the preliminary design before starting the construction process, an airport can eliminate significant schedule time that would otherwise be dedicated to reviews, bidding and contracting in more traditional approaches.


The most prevalent question when utilizing design-build for major airfield projects is: Will the FAA allow it? Change 1 to FAA Order 5100.38D of the Airport Improvement Program Handbook provides guidance on design-build delivery methods. Specifically, significant prereview and coordination is mandatory with the FAA prior to its concurrence and approval, and the FAA will document its concurrence by issuing the grant for the project. All parties must be committed very early on to the procurement of the delivery method for it to be successful.


Design-build delivery offers major schedule advantages; however, owners should keep the following in mind before diving into a major design-build project for an airfield pavement project:

  • LEGALITY – Even though the FAA may provide a conduit for funding a design-build project, a public entity may still expressly prohibit or pose obstacles to design-build delivery. Airport executives need to know the rules of their state or governing body prior to pursuing this method.
  • CONTRACTUAL ARRANGEMENTS – Airport executives can realize major advantages by contracting with a single entity that can perform both the design and build aspects of the project. However, if an engineer and contractor are separate entities, the recommendation is that an owner should know the contract terms between the two entities, especially as they relate to the performance of the final product. Understanding the contractual obligations of all involved parties can eliminate major issues, including schedule delays.
  • TRUST – There is always some amount of risk to airport owners when pursuing the design-build process. During the procurement process, selection committee members need to build a level of comfort with the prospective design-build team. Although there’s no guarantee of risk reduction, building the trust between ownership and the design-build team can alleviate concerns going into a major project.

Airports all over the world are relying on the design-build delivery approach. This delivery method is allowing owners and operators to keep up with the demand for major improvements while avoiding disruptions to operations and passenger experience commonly associated with more traditional delivery methods.