By Jessica Dickers, Editor, Infrastructure

Melbourne Airport has begun construction on its new $300 million taxiway network, Taxiway Zulu – the largest airfield investment project since the airport’s opening. Here, we take a closer look at what the works will involve and how one of Australia’s busiest airports plans to complete the project without disruption to any flights. 

Works on Melbourne Airport’s Taxiway Zulu Project began in July this year and will see the construction of more than 250,000 square metres of new taxiway pavement for the airport, creating hundreds of jobs over the next three and a half years.

Of the 250,000 square metres of pavement, some will be built in areas where there is currently only grass, while others will be used to replace existing pavement that has reached the end of its serviceable life.

Once completed, the taxiway will provide more space for aircraft traffic, allows for increased capacity, new routes and terminal facilities and overall efficiency.

The finished network will have parallel taxiways in the north of the airfield, supporting wide-body aircraft movements in both the east-west and north-south directions.

Taxiway Zulu forms part of a broader Northern Precinct Program, which aims to reconfigure the existing taxiways and apron layout to eliminate any roadblocks to airport growth.

It is also designed to improve aircraft movements around Terminal 2 and prepare for a potential third runway.

Fulton Hogan was awarded the contract to deliver the Taxiway Zulu Program and Northern Access Route Project, DCWC is providing project management services for the taxiway expansion and Jacobs is providing design and technical monitoring services.

Extending Victor and re-aligning Echo

Taxiway Zulu will run parallel to the airport’s existing east-west runway and the pavement will be predominantly rigid (concrete) heavy duty airfield pavement.

In areas where workers have restricted access due to the airport’s operational requirements, traditional Portland Cement Concrete (PCC) is unable to be placed and cured, so ‘expedient’ flexible (asphalt) pavement will be used instead.

As part of the project the airport is also extending Taxiway Victor by approximately 1,000m, which runs parallel to the existing north-south runway.

The existing Taxiway Echo is also being realigned over approximately 600-700m to run parallel with Taxiway Zulu.

In addition to the new pavement, the project will also involve the construction of the associated stormwater drainage network and airfield ground lighting to ensure the taxiways and surrounding infrastructure are appropriately illuminated to meet the standards set down by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).

Melbourne Airport’s ambitious growth plans

The main aim of the new taxiways is to improve time performance for flights and allow more space for international aircraft, which will improve overall operational efficiencies.

Zulu has been designed to provide the northern precinct of Melbourne Airport with independent, dual wide-body (such as the Airbus A380) capable taxiways.

A Melbourne Airport spokesperson said that this layout will reduce delays by providing a dual north-south and east-west taxiway network serving the northern precinct.

This allows traffic management of the aircraft to avoid head-to-head conflict between aircraft taxiing towards the east-west Runway 09/27, or arriving at the precinct, and aircraft exiting for departure from Runway 16 (heading south) or Runway 34 (heading north).

“The project also facilitates operational efficiency by reducing the impact of aircraft pushing-back from the terminal stands onto active taxiways,” the spokesperson said.

“For example, there are currently ten stands that require aircraft to be pushed back (when departing) into Taxiway Tango, but this number will be significantly reduced post-development with aircraft then pushing back onto Taxiway Echo which is being re-aligned as part of the project.”

Left to Right: David Hall and David Burns from Melbourne Airport along with Duncan Gibb and David Fisher from Fulton Hogan.

A challenging airfield development

With a project of this size, the biggest challenge is building the new pavement, with all associated lights and drainage, without impacting the operations of aircraft.

Melbourne Airport is a curfew-free airport that operates 24/7 so contractors have to work closely with the airport’s operations team to be selective in closing certain elements of the airfield network.

The goal is to enable construction whilst keeping all the scheduled aircraft moving to enable customers to travel safely without any obvious impact.

The Melbourne Airport spokesperson said its contractors and consultants had to find and recruit the right skilled people for this project whilst also competing for plant equipment and materials.

“As an example, we will be constructing our own concrete batching plant on the airfield to supplement local concrete supply so as to avoid delays.

We’ll coordinate with operations and close elements of the airfield to ensure traffic flows and will also work at night when the impact is less,” the spokesperson said.

At a ceremony to mark the beginning of construction on the project, Melbourne Airport Chief of Aviation, David Hall, said,

‘Today is not just about breaking ground on a $300 million investment in our airfield; it is about transforming the travel experience for our passengers.

“When completed, these new taxiways will mean better on-time performance for flights, more space for international aircraft and access to new destinations – it’s all part of our vision to support Melbourne on its journey to become Australia’s biggest city.”

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