With COVID-19 restrictions significantly decreasing passenger numbers across all Australian airports in 2020, it became a suitable time to complete large maintenance and construction projects that would have otherwise caused extensive shutdowns. Brisbane Airport used this time to replace the entirety of its skylight that spans the length of the Domestic Terminal to maintain safety compliance.

As the gateway to Queensland for domestic and international visitors, Brisbane Airport’s terminals have been designed to create a unique sense of space that makes a welcoming and lasting impression.

This sense of space encapsulates Queensland perfectly, capturing the warmth and light of the Sunshine State by bringing the outdoors in. At Brisbane Airport’s Domestic Terminal, visitors are welcomed by natural light that floods in overhead from the extensive skylight spanning 480m across the terminal’s ceiling.

This architectural masterpiece has been a feature of the Domestic Terminal since its construction in the 1980s, providing opportunity for airlines and retailers to reap the resulting ambience and atmosphere.

Like all structures exposed to the elements, the skylight had reached the end of its life and required replacement in order to comply with relevant safety standards and protect the terminal from the elements.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Brisbane Airport Corporation (BAC), the operator of Brisbane Airport (BNE), reassessed all projects within the pipeline in order to prioritise those that were essential to ongoing operations.

Robert Scodellaro, Head of Project Services at BAC, said the skylight replacement project was identified as essential in order to ensure ongoing compliance of the Domestic Terminal. “Construction for the replacement commenced in June, with practical completion being reached in October,” Mr Scodellaro said.

Flexible construction

Despite COVID-19 not having a significant impact on the project, the decreased passenger numbers did allow for some flexibilities around construction.

“The skylight project could only be accessed from the roof of the terminal itself, with all materials being craned to that location. “In order to have a crane operating in an active airside environment, there are a number of complexities to overcome, including the need for both internal and external exclusion zones.

“With reduced passengers and flights, the removal of aircraft bays from the allocation plan to enable the required exclusion zones resulted in a reduced impact to airlines,” Mr Scodellaro said.

Though it wasn’t only the aircraft bays that were affected. Despite operating in a heavily reduced capacity due to border restrictions, Brisbane Airport remained open and operational throughout the pandemic.

“Despite a significant decrease in passengers throughout the terminals, customer experience remained top-of-mind for any construction activities at the airport,” Mr Scodellaro said.

“This meant that all disruptive activities had to occur outside of operational hours, so they largely took place between 10pm and 4am.”

Risk mitigation and safety paramount

The Principal Contractor, Box & Co, took each of these challenges in their stride, delivering the project on time and with an impeccable safety record. Box & Co’s Managing Director, Simon Box, said the project came with its challenges, but the team committed to a collaborative approach with BAC to find solutions.

“As a proud local business, safety is always our priority and this project gave us the opportunity to really practice what we preach and prove our capability.”

With 1,090 glass panels and nearly a kilometre of roofing flashing that needed replacement, Box & Co facilitated 168 crane lifts to the rooftop, all from the airside environment.

“Prior to commencing on site, we worked through risk mitigation and safety procedures. Ultimately, we knew we had to send people to work from a rooftop at night in a really niche environment, so there were a number of challenges we had to design out of the process before we could commence,” Mr Box said.

“On top of the external environment, we were also very aware that the works were occurring above critical airport infrastructure such as check-in counters. We knew that any issues during the night shift could have an impact on airport operations the following morning.

“Scaffold harnessing and catch nets for dust and debris beneath the skylight internally are examples of the types of risk mitigation measures utilised throughout the project.”

With the strong team dynamic at Box & Co, Simon Box knew he had the right people on board who would be able to deliver this project to a high quality, and most importantly, safely.

“We are a small company, and we were in the height of a global pandemic – utilising local suppliers who we have built relationships with over the years was critical to us,” Mr Box said.

“Knowing that we were giving additional work to trusted suppliers made the project a little sweeter in a time that was so unknown for the
building industry.

“Box & Co is extremely happy to say that we were able source 93 per cent of construction materials from South East Queensland, with more than 90 per cent of the total employees working on this project living in South East Queensland.

“That not only includes the Box & Co team, but also subcontractors working on various aspects of the works,” Mr Box said. As Brisbane Airport looks to recovery, the newly replaced skylight at the Domestic Terminal will be sure to give passengers a warm welcome to the Sunshine State.

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