The gates to the Green Airport airfield adjacent to Airport Plaza look wide open, as if anyone could drive onto the runway whenever they choose, and that is the case. But it would be difficult to get much farther than the mountain of earth and the exposed subsurface that was once the drainage field at the end of Runway 34.
That’s because that section of the airport’s crosswind runway and the adjacent Hangar 1 have been isolated from the rest of the airport. A fence running along what had been a taxiway secures the operational side of the airport from the area where Lynch Construction crews are tearing up the end of the runway. Soon, another crew will begin dismantling the hangar with its control tower.
The two projects are part of meeting Federal Aviation Administration safety rules requiring the runway to have a 1,000-foot end-of-the-runway roll-off should a plane abort a takeoff or landing and fail to stop before the runway ends. In this, case there is not enough space at either end of the runway for a 1,000-foot roll-off without moving Airport Plaza and the Post and Airport Road intersection to the west or significantly altering Buckeye Brook to the east.
To meet the requirement, the Rhode Island Airport Corporation will use an engineered material arresting system (EMAS) in addition to a conventional safety area. Like a sandy roadbed exit used to stop runaway trucks that loose their brakes on step hills, EMAS are made of concrete blocks designed to crumble under an aircraft’s weight. The EMAS on Runway 34 will be 255 feet long and 170 feet wide, said David Brouillet, an engineer for McFarland Johnson.
With it started to rain, Brouillet watched from his truck cab as a shovel bit into the runway and lifted chunks of asphalt into trucks that waited two and three in a line to carry it back to the Lynch plant to be recycled. The job, now in its third week, has entailed the removal of jet blast walls at the end of the former safety area, the unearthing of runway lighting systems and the grading of a basin, where topsoil is now stockpiled, as part of the runway’s drainage infiltration system. With installation of the fence separating the air operations area from the construction site last week, everything became much easier.
“It eliminated the need to check each one [vehicle],” Alan Andrade, vice president of operations and maintenance, said. This doesn’t mean anybody and everybody can drive out on the end of the closed runway.
“There are tiers of security and it all begins at the AOA [airport operations area] fence,” Andrade explained. What moving the fence line has done, he said, “is to avoid a full blown inspection.”
Extending the safety area at the opposite end, which won’t start until next year, presents a different set of security issues. Andrade said securing the area is planned, however, it should not be as intrusive. Similar means of enabling construction to proceed without interfering with operations and maintaining security will be developed when Green’s longer Runway 5-23 is lengthened by about 1,500 feet to make it 8,700 feet. That project is slated to start in 2016.
Andrade said plans are worked out with the airlines and often borrow methods used for projects at other airports. Everything has to meet the approval of the TSA.
As for Runway 34, Brouillet said the reconstruction is projected to be complete in November, but the EMAS won’t be installed until the following spring. A blueprint of the system showed a gradually upward sloping platform built from four by four-foot blocks from six to 20 inches thick. He said work on Runway 16 (the east end of the crosswind runway) would start at the same time. Plans call for the runway to be open from late November through the winter and early spring and then close again for construction. Before the runway is reopened, it must pass FAA inspection and pass instrument landing system tests.
The hangar is being removed because of its proximity to the runway. Once gone, it will allow for a more gradual turning radius for aircraft to taxi on and off of the runway.