Cargo is Key
While TSAIA handles its share of passenger traffic — more than five million people annually — the airport’s real strength is as a key hub for cargo traffic. Strategically located between the world’s two largest economies, China and the U.S. (which also happen to be the two largest e-commerce markets), TSAIA ranks fifth in the world in air cargo, growing by 2.52 percent to 2.79 million metric tons in 2018 alone. According to Martin Meenaghan, QAP’s project engineer, the stream of cargo-laden jumbo jets into and out of the facility on any given day is virtually non-stop.
“This airport sees some of the largest aircraft flying today, including “The Dreamlifter,” which Boeing uses to transport entire wings of commercial aircraft,” he said. “We were tasked with bringing the runway up to new FAA specs designed to better handle these — and larger — aircraft as the airport moves forward. Obviously they have a very decent niche with all this cargo traffic and I’m sure they want to maintain that position; this will help them do that. We were contracted to widen the structural section of the runway. So, while the footprint of the runway will remain essentially the same, the weight-bearing section of it was widened by some 65’.”
Upgrade work at TSAIA started with a small 1500’ section of runway in order for QAP to gain familiarity with the technique they would use for milling the entire structure: Topcon Millimeter GPS. However, work began in earnest later with the shutdown of runway 15/33 and the diversion of all traffic to the east-west runway (07/25) at the southern end of the airport.
Flights to Lights
QAP’s work at TSAIA ran the gamut from preliminary earthmoving to milling to paving to prep for landing light installation. To help them handle each facet in the most efficient way possible, the company called upon Mike Williams, co-owner of Anchorage-based GPS Alaska to discuss equipment and control solution options available to them. Doing so was not just the proverbial “shot in the dark.” For several years now, their parent company, Colaska, has been one of Topcon’s strategic partners.
“We enjoy a great relationship with Colaska and worked hard to win them over,” said Williams. “They’d been using GPS gear from another manufacturer and we knew they could benefit from what Topcon had to offer. We sat down with Joe Webb, Robb Dunn and Mike Fizette and showed them all that was available, finally doing a ‘Fly and Try’ into Topcon’s Livermore, California test center. There, each potential user got a chance to see and test the technology that could improve their effort. Having already known about the level of support GPS Alaska provided its customers, Mike Fizette, QAP’s area manager, went to bat to promote the switch to Topcon. Today, thanks to his efforts and QAP’s overall commitment to change, they are one of our best proponents of GNSS solutions, and it showed out at the airport.”
The lineup QAP brought to bear at TSAIA was impressive indeed. It included: three dozers, a John Deere 850 and Cat D6N with 3D-MC MAX and a Cat D6T with 3D-MC2 machine control; a Cat 16M motor grader running twin 3D-MC; a Komatsu 1200 excavator with X-53i indicate-only GPS; a Wirtgen W2501 milling machine with dual Millimeter GPS, two CAT F Series pavers; a pair of Cat CB-68B rollers and a Dynapac 700 roller with Topcon C-53 IC Intelligent Compaction; and four Topcon FC-5000 data collectors.
“This was an outstanding opportunity for QAP — and Colaska — to truly see what a full range of GNSS solutions could do for them — and they were not disappointed,” said Williams.
In the Trenches
Excavation work on the 11,470’ long, 200’ wide runway included digging a full-length trench on either side of the runway and filling each trench with gravel to provide the additional structural stability. Work in this area also included new piping systems for drainage. Runway Safety Areas (RSAs), which extend off the pavement, were excavated at 2’ deep, 110’ wide the entire length of the runway. According to Meenaghan, having machine control at work made a significant impact.
“The machine control solution worked really well for us,” he said. “With everyone working off the same a model, things were roughed in quickly — it’s all very efficient. We were out here for seven weeks and had the bulk of the earthwork knocked out. It turned into a paving show much sooner than we ever anticipated. Granted, there are always weather days that we always have to anticipate up here, but it’s nice to get a bit of breathing room so early on.”
Having that level of efficiency in all phases of the project was not just a luxury. While there is no incentive built into QAP’s contract for finishing the TSAIA project early, there is certainly a penalty — $18,000 per day between two phases — for delays beyond the contracted end date.
“For us, the incentive to finish early is this: we’re done, we’re under budget, we did a good job and the customer is satisfied,” said Meenaghan.