By JOHN HOWELL Ever wonder what you're landing on when you feel the wheels touch down followed by the roar of the reverse thrust of jets? Duc Nguyen, chief infrastructure officer at the Rhode Island Airport Corporation, knows exactly what goes into
Ever wonder what you’re landing on when you feel the wheels touch down followed by the roar of the reverse thrust of jets?
Duc Nguyen, chief infrastructure officer at the Rhode Island Airport Corporation, knows exactly what goes into making a runway, and it’s a lot more than what goes into building a road.
To get an up close look at the runways at Rhode Island T. F. Green International Airport, Nguyen and Jeff Wiggin, assistant vice president for airport operations, provided a tour Thursday afternoon of the ongoing $27.6 million upgrade of Runway 16-34 (the crosswind runway) that started in August 2020. The runway is slated to reopen in December.
Upgrading a runway is nothing like repaving a highway, which can explain why this project is 10 times what Warwick will spend this year on repaving. For starters, the work extends well beyond the pavement. There’s the equivalent to the shoulder of the road, only it’s designed to support the weight of an aircraft (a fully loaded Boeing 737 can weigh 182,000 pounds). Then there are the lighting and drainage systems, not to mention the safety area that extends beyond the runway. The safety area must be leveled.
If that’s not enough to coordinate, consider that the airport remains operational throughout the project. That means all landings and takeoffs must use Runway 5-23.
But then how can that runway remain operational when the crosswind runway crosses it? The simple answer is that neither runway can be used. The airport is closed.
That’s what happened this summer, although it never made headlines and from the public perspective everything was operating as it should.
For a total of 20 nights, the airport was closed to operations between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. To accomplish that, airlines and airfreight carriers had to reconfigure their schedules, a process that was started months in advance.
That portion of the project has been completed, as has been the east end of Runway 16-34 with the exception of grooving where cuts an inch apart from each other are made across the runway pavement. The cuts act to drain the runway and provide added friction for landing aircraft.
To top all of those factors at play, the pandemic and the weather have thrown the project a couple of curve balls. Paving can’t be done in the rain, and there’s been a lot of that this summer.
A shortage of materials resulting from the pandemic have also impacted the project.
“It’s been hard to get all the materials,” Nguyen said. So far, however, there haven’t been major delays and the project remains on time and on budget according to John Goodman, vice president of marketing and communications.
Stephen Cardi II, executive vice president and COO of Cardi Construction and general contractor, affirmed that supply lines have been tight but so far his crews that are doing the major portion of the work have adequate supplies.
So what makes a runway?
Nguyen turned to Mark Noonan with Stantec, which is the engineering consultant on the job. To start with, the earth beneath the runway is compacted. On top of that is a 14-inch layer of P-154, a composite aggregate that is also compacted. On top of that is 6 inches of P-209, another form of composite aggregate, which is followed by a 4-inch base asphalt. The final base of asphalt is 5 inches. Each layer of the runway is rolled and vibrated for 100 percent compaction before the next is applied.
Nguyen and Noonan, who were doing the math simultaneously, announced 29 inches.
Noonan also had the numbers. He said in a single day the Cardi crew would apply 2,300 tons of asphalt and that so far 45,000 tons of asphalt had been used on the project.
Wiggin kept the tour on schedule, constantly staying in touch with the tower to move about the field, waiting for departing aircraft and pointing out features of the project including new LED lighting and the breakaway elements of lights and taxiway signs should an aircraft leave the runway. He said runways are fully inspected twice daily for foreign objects that could have dropped from an aircraft or another vehicle. Also, lights and signage could have been damaged and light globes may have been blown off.
Before Runway 16-34 reopens, it faces final inspection and calibration before Federal Aviation Administration certification.
So, will Nguyen take a break, maybe even a vacation when that day comes?
“That’s one down and many to go,” he said with a laugh.
A number of other projects, including reconstruction of taxiways and runways at Quonset, are also in various phases of construction or design.