Future passenger growth is not possible without airport pavement investment 

As the national industry voice for airports in Australia, the Australian Airports Association (AAA) represents the interests of more than 260 airports and aerodromes Australia wide – from local country community landing strips to major international gateway airports.

A significant investment for all airports regardless of size is the airfield pavement. Airfield pavements are a vital piece of airport infrastructure and include runways, taxiways, aprons and parking areas, which require a high level of maintenance and come at a significant cost.

Caroline Wilkie, Chief Executive Officer at the AAA, explained to delegates at the 17th AAPA International Flexible Pavements Conference, the major risks of under investment in airside pavements and the future challenges Australian airports are facing.

A research program dedicated to advancing local airport paving technology and practices and led by Dr Greg White, is to be established as a collaboration between the AAA and the University of the Sunshine Coast.

The research program will focus on the particular challenges facing Australian airports and pavement engineers of bitumen and asphalt in a country where heat and the tyranny of distance add to a range of other difficulties in pavement engineering.

In recent decades, growth in Australian aviation has been dramatic and the number of passengers moving through Australia’s airports has grown from 33 million in 1985 to over 154 million in 2016.

The 2016 report Trends – Transport and Australia’s Development to 2040 and Beyond, published by the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, predicts passenger growth in the medium term to rise. Forecasts indicate average annual growth rate for international passengers at 4.9 per cent between 2015 and 2034.

The current high levels of domestic and international passenger growth at Australia’s major airports are already testing the capacity of airport infrastructure during peak periods.

International air travel is expected to grow strongly between now and 2030, with both domestic and international passenger movements through capital cities almost doubling.

The passenger growth has not necessarily increased the number of aircraft but resulted in a shift to larger aircraft types.

Larger aircraft create challenges for airport pavements, including reduced runway lifespans because new heavier aircraft with higher tyre pressures are stretching the performance capability of existing pavement designs.

These challenges highlight the importance of advancing pavement technology and practice to ensure future growth in passenger movements can be catered for.

Over the last decade, Australian airports have invested millions of dollars in major projects to expand and upgrade airside facilities to accommodate the increase in passenger movements and larger aircraft types.

The next decade and beyond will see even more investment in aviation infrastructure.

A major project under construction at Brisbane Airport is the New Parallel Runway (NPR), which will provide regional economic benefit of around $5 billion by 2035 along with an increase of 7,800 jobs.

The Sunshine Coast Airport expansion project will include a main runway, taxiway loops and new air traffic control tower access roads and utilities.

These upgrades will not only contribute more to the economy and create more local jobs but will also help reduce the number of homes impacted by aircraft noise while catering for larger aircraft, opening up new destinations and tourism opportunities.

This significant amount of activity also provides opportunities for further developing the industry’s knowledge and understanding of airfield pavements.

While the major airports are expanding, regional airports are struggling to invest in major infrastructure as they rely on government funding in order to upgrade and maintain their pavements.

Without this funding pavements cannot be maintained, leading to difficulties for local communities to access essential services such as medical treatment as well as compromising tourism opportunities.

Most regional airports run at a loss of up to 60 per cent and struggle to keep up with the maintenance cycle of the airside pavements.

An important fact to consider with airport pavements is that they are not the same as roads because they play host to heavier transportation with higher tyre pressures and have more stringent requirements around design and construction.

The collaborative research project undertaken by the AAA and the University of Sunshine Coast is a step forward for the aviation industry and will plug a significant gap in industry knowledge following the demise of the Federal Airports Corporation as a result of airport privatisation.

To ensure the aviation industry is educated and kept up to date with pavement research, technology and techniques, the AAA has dedicated a half day program at the upcoming AAA National Conference in mid-November to pavements.

Experts from Fulton Hogan, the University of Sunshine Coast, Aurecon and regional airports will be presenting on maximising pavement lifespan, maintenance techniques, performance, future technology and lessons learnt from past experiences.

One of the sessions will discuss the preventative maintenance program Burnie Airport has adopted, which provides significant cost benefits compared with the traditional reactive approach.

The runway asphalt pavement was constructed in 1987 and has been in service for 30 years.

In 2018, the AAA will continue bringing the aviation industry together with a dedicated pavements and lighting forum.

This bi-annual event brings experts together to share ideas, update their knowledge and skills, and educate the next generation of pavement professionals.

The AAA has also produced a publication in the form of an Airport Practice Note (APN) titled Airfield Pavement Essentials.

This document provides general guidance and information to airport managers and operators regarding airport pavement design, materials, construction, maintenance and rehabilitation.

Airfield Pavement Essentials was developed in recognition of the fact that many regional airports do not have specialist engineering expertise to draw on for important information about the critical airfield pavement infrastructure that makes up our runways, taxiways and aprons.

The APN provides regional airports, or those new to the industry, with the essential information needed to develop a greater understanding of airport pavement design, materials, construction, maintenance and rehabilitation.

The AAA is dedicated to ensuring that airport investment in pavements is continued into the future as it is key to ongoing growth in the aviation sector especially through government funding for regional airports.

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