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Airport's access to all areas

Birmingham Airport’s new runway extension will allow it to offer direct flights to China and South America, and to achieve that aim the city council is diverting a road. NCE reports


Birmingham Airport chief executive Paul Kehoe braved a freezing day a couple of weeks ago to dig a symbolic first spade in the ground as a way of marking the official start of works to extend the operational runway by 405m.

That small distance will put Birmingham Airport and the West Midlands region in direct flight reach of the economies and tourist destinations of China, South America, South Africa and the west coast of America.

It will give the big jets the extra runway to take off loaded with more fuel so they can fly passengers a further 2,000 plus miles past Dubai and New York, where they already go, and on to new destinations and trading partners.

As Kehoe put his foot on the shovel, carriers British Airways (BA) and Virgin were announcing that the extra reach at Birmingham would not attract them and would not be the answer to relieving airport capacity in the South East.

But Kehoe was unconcerned. “I know BA and Virgin are saying no way. But airlines like Emirates and Lufthansa aren’t. Airlines that can’t get into the South East will come here - we are confident about that,” he said. “The project is going to make a monumental difference to the airport and the Midlands.”

Every year 3.3M people drive past Birmingham Airport to get to South East airports like Heathrow and Gatwick adding to congestion on the roads and at the airports themselves. “It makes no sense,” Kehoe said. “The strong economic profile of the Midlands means that businesses are crying out for direct connectivity from their local airport.”

“The project is going to make a monumental difference to the airport and the Midlands”

Paul Kehoe, Birmingham Airport

There is capacity at Birmingham to double passenger numbers from 9M to 18M a year, and the runway extension allows an increase to 36M in the future. West Midlands Economic Forum estimates that passenger growth would create more than 243,000 jobs in the area.

The project has been an ambition for over 20 years, explains the airport’s development director Will Heynes. But until now there had never been a scheme that made economic sense.

The problem is that the airport and the end of its runway is bounded to the south by the busy A45 dual carriageway which links the M42 and Birmingham city centre.

Options had been considered, such as putting the road in tunnel under the airport to allow for the extension. “But apart from being costly this would have created operational challenges and security issues and so was discounted,” says Heynes.

“We work very collaboratively with the local community,” he adds, “and we wanted to develop the runway to the southaway from the 150,000 residents in the north.”

What has made the difference now is that the airport’s ambitions have coincided with Birmingham City Council’s vision to add a public transport corridor initially for buses but ultimately for future tram extensions to the A45.

Both clients have come together to co-ordinate their projects to achieve their joint aims. The A45 is being diverted and widened creating land on which the runway can be extended.

“Carrying out the extension of the runway at the same time as the A45 improvements has created a scheme that stands economic scrutiny,” Heynes says.

The co-operation goes further. Although there are two clients and two projects there is just one construction contract and one contractor for both - the Volker- Fitzpatrick Colas joint venture (VCJV), which is currently almost halfway through construction of the new road.

“If we hadn’t been able to reuse spoil on the airport project we would have been taking around 250,000m3 off site for disposal”

Chris Sedman, VCJV

When traffic switches to the new route in April or May next year the runway extension can be implemented.

Including land acquisition and project management, the airport scheme represents an investment of £45M, and the road £25M. Birmingham Airport is contributing £7M towards the cost of the road project.

The single construction job to build both is worth £45M, and operating the two jobs as one has produced significant savings.

“The scheme to construct the road is generating surplus material that is being used to develop the airfield and the airfield site,” Heynes says.

VCJV project director Chris Sedman explains: “We are digging out 300,000m3 of clay for the road. The poor quality clay is destined for airfield bunds but 50-60,000m3 of the good quality material will be structural fill for the runway.

“If we hadn’t been able to reuse spoil on the airport project we would have been taking around 250,000m3 off site for disposal.”

Cost savings from that alone are estimated at around £3M. “And the environmental impact of all those lorry movements would have been a huge issue for planning,” Sedman adds. “This way they have not been needed.”

Savings were also generated in the procurement process. “We didn’t want to pay two sets of overheads and prelims, management and design costs in order to price the job,” Heynes says. “And there were clear programme linkages. You could see the relation of the road and airfield would have an impact on the way each project worked, and we wanted to avoid any unnecessary programme constraints, clashes and contractual pitfalls.”

As Sedman says: “I don’t see the job as two schemes. I have just one programme that accommodates everything.”

Crucial in the procurement process was the ability to demonstrate to the local authority client that constructing two separate projects as one scheme was the best value option for the public investment.

The job was bid as three lots - one airport, one road and one combined scheme. And five bidders went through a competitive dialogue process.

“Once we had identified the huge amount of surplus material that would have had to be moved, not to go with the combined scheme would have increased the cost significantly,” Heynes says.

“Competitive dialogue was a very helpful process,” Sedman adds. “It teases out all the issues and you are able to generate enough trust and confidence in confidentiality for the supply chain to come up with innovative and competitive solutions.”

The final decision was not just down to price, Heynes says. All bidders were evaluated on cost, programme, quality, environmental performance and job creation.

Creation of local employment and training opportunities was important for Birmingham City Council, and each partner in VCJV has taken on two civil engineering apprentices who are learning their skills on the project.

VolkerFitzpatrick and Colas are among the country’s leading airfield contractors and, combined with Colas’s runway resurfacing expertise, were an attractive joint venture to employ.

“We liked that we were employing a jv that would not subcontract the work,” Heynes says. “We believe we have the team to do the best job.”

Roads and Runways


Earth moving: Around 300,000m3 of clay needs shifting around the site

The runway project

The runway pavement is being extended by 450m, including an additional 405m of operational runway, taking its operational length to 3,003m.

The runway is 60m wide, 46m for operation plus two 7m wide shoulders and a full parallel taxiway. Once the extension is complete the contract also includes resurfacing, which is scheduled for November 2013 to February 2014 when the airport will halt all night flights. Designs are being finalised.

“At the moment we are establishing methodologies, operating heights and where the batching plant will go,” says VCJV site agent Brandi Davey.

Surfacing for the runway will be Marshall asphalt, as Birmingham has a cross wind runway and the grooving facilitates drainage. But alternatives like high friction BBA are being considered for the shoulders and taxiways.

“We have to hope the weather will be kind while we are laying,” says Davey. “Marshall asphalt has a large amount of fines and the rain tends to pluck them out. If it is too cold the fines mean the surface goes off too quickly.”

The road project

The site team is creating a 60m wide trace over 1,800m for the new dual carriageway, two 7.5m wide passenger transport lanes and the airport perimeter road.

In total that makes close to 8km of new road construction. The route starts at grade and dips into a 6m deep cutting opposite the end of the extended runway.

The biggest challenges on the road job are the weather and £7M of utility diversions. The low lying clay site is criss-crossed by water courses and completion of a new drainage culvert to catch all the water has significantly improved site conditions.

There are over 30 utility services to move, with the tie ins being top of the risk register.

April and May next year is the target for moving traffic onto the new road, with the route fully complete by July.

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