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Final checks underway as new runway nears completion

The major construction work is done, the date is set and the wait is on for the rubber to hit the runway.

The first commercial flights are scheduled to land and take-off on Brisbane Airport’s new runway on Sunday 12 July as a long-term project that will deliver huge advantages to the region finally comes to fruition.

Described by Brisbane Airport Corporation chief executive Gert-Jan de Graaf as an “infrastructure masterpiece”, the $1.1 billion project has come in $200 million under budget and on time.

Its construction involved roughly five million cubic metres of earthworks, 11 million cubic metres of dredged sand and about 1.2 million tonnes of quarry products.

The 3.3km runway is expected to create 7800 jobs by 2035 and add $5 billion in annual economic benefit to the region. It includes 12km of taxiways as well as navigation aids such as an instrument landing system, high intensity approach lighting and airfield ground lighting.

The runway will have the first 100 per cent LED Cat 1 lighting system in the southern hemisphere and will allow BAC to save energy by illuminating only those lights needed for a particular operation. It will also help minimise delays due to fog.

While major construction may have finished, there’s still plenty of work to be done as the big day approaches.

Final preparations include the many checks to ensure everybody from airport staff to rescue and fire fighting services and air traffic controllers are ready.

Landscaping is being finished, helped enormously by recent rains, and systems such as ground lighting and instrument landings systems are undergoing final testing by major contractor Skyway and its subcontractors.

The most obvious of these is the ground lighting and ADB SAFEGATE has been putting the system through a series of tests since mid-January with more to go. This includes new stop bars and an associated control monitoring system on the existing runway.

There has been a thorough review of the entire airfield to make sure there are no defects and everything has been built in accordance with the Manual of Standards.

Runway project director Paul Coughlan says the new runway’s first assessment by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority went “very well” and Airservices Australia has finished the installation of the navigation systems.

Airservices has been running ground checks on the system and there has been one flight check, with the first ILS flight check to take place at the end of March with another in the beginning of April.

“BAC also has a flight check in relation to our airfield ground lighting, which is also the end of March and then a final one in May,’’ says Coughlan’s deputy, Ben Garnett.

Skyway, the joint venture between CBP Contractors and BMD Constructions, is due to hand over the airfield to BAC on schedule on 1 May.

But there will still be a series of final checks and drills after May.

“An example of that is the new fire station,’’ says Coughlan. “So aviation fire and rescue will be doing their trials to ensure that they meet the response times to the runway threshold.”

BAC will also conduct an emergency drill exercise and Coughlan says the airport operator is familiarising new and existing airside operations staff with the new airfield.

This included building a ground driver simulator to allow people to get familiar with the layout of the new airfield and complement on-site visits.

The airport company’s facilities staff have also been working on the handover of the lighting and other airfield systems as manuals and other documents are being updated and checked off.

“Ben’s team has mapped every document that has to be updated,’’ Coughlan says, noting this ranges from documents in BAC’s assets system that register the new runway to the airport operations manual.

“With Airservices, all of their documentation has been mapped and we’re working with them,  closing every new document.

“All the training has now been scheduled, from internal BAC staff through to all the Airservices staff, to be ready for parallel runway operations.

“So it’s intense, but everything’s been mapped and we’re just methodically going through and closing all of that out.”

The project is the first new runway at a capital city airport since Sydney’s third runway and Coughlan says BAC was always aware that other airports such as Perth, Melbourne and Western Sydney were watching with interest.

There have been questions about design, risk management, procurement and delivery strategy.

There have also been many questions on the project’s successful community and stakeholder engagement.

Likening it at times to a military operation, he says he is extremely proud that the contractors, his team and BAC have delivered it not just on time but under budget with a governance that was “first rate”.

He said BAC needed to demonstrate, particularly to its airline partners, that it was able to deliver a billion-dollar project well in terms of both the program and cost.

He is also immensely proud of its safety record, a requirement that had been important to BAC.

“There would have been thousands over the years who have worked on this on contract,’’ he says. “If you look at what constitutes success, there’s not one of those who has been injured seriously.”

Another source of pride is the lack of disruption to the public and other stakeholders during the eight years of construction.

He attributes the project’s success in part to the goals set by the board, not just on areas such as cost control but on safety, stakeholder engagement and environmental outcomes.

He says it was heartening to see people from board level down to senior management “cognizant of what success looks like and then holding my team accountable and saying if that is going to cost … the money will be allocated”.

He adds: “But then the return is you have to deliver on that and we’ve achieved that.”

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