You might think that opening a new $1.3 billion runway is a bad idea, when flights are being cancelled and borders closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
But an aviation marketing expert said it was a “brilliant” strategy that would position Brisbane as a hub for international travel as the world emerged from the coronavirus crisis.
The project at a glance:
- Brisbane Airport’s new runway is 3.3 kilometres long
- It took more than 15 years of planning and construction
- 11 million cubic metres of sand dredged up
- 250,000 cubic metres of concrete poured
- 1.2 million tonnes of rock and gravel used
- 400 kilometres of ducting for underground cables installed
- 2,200 LED lights in the tarmac installed
Brisbane Airport Corporation (BAC) opens the much-awaited new runway today, which it said was the largest aviation construction project in Australia.
The second runway or third if you count the cross runway has been in the making for about 16 years and is an engineering feat to behold.
Project director Paul Coughlan said he was not expecting the bayside site to be easy, given his background in building ports.
“I do remember sitting in my office and our geotechnical engineers coming to see me and telling me that the ‘good news’ was that I had the worst soil that they’ve ever discovered,” he said.
“[The engineers said] the bad news it’s going to be a bloody challenge in how we stabilise everything.”
The site covers an area half the size of Sydney’s entire international and domestic airport.(Supplied: Brisbane Airport Corporation)
The $1.3 billion runway is more than three metres thick and the site covers an area half the size of Sydney’s entire international and domestic airport.
“We brought 1.2 million cubic metres of rock in to build pavements,” Mr Coughlan said.
“All up we probably poured about 250,000 cubic metres of concrete that’s an enormous volume of concrete.
“It’s all built on sandy wetlands just the sheer geology and geography around Brisbane Airport meant I couldn’t get a dredge in at the front.
“Our foreshore on Moreton Bay is intertidal, so the nearest we could get a dredge was about 13 kilometres away.”
Then there was the soft, swampy ground that bogged heavy machinery, time and time again.
“We had these deep alluvial channels 30 metres thick, which basically we used to say it has the strength of toothpaste,” Mr Coughlan said.
Mr Coughlan (left) has led the project from concept through construction and completion.(Supplied: Brisbane Airport Corporation)
Much of the design cannot be seen to be appreciated.
There is about 400 kilometres of ducting pipes under the tarmac to run cables for the 2,200 LED lights and optic fibre communication cables.
“If you take off and land on that new runway, you won’t realise how much is actually buried in the ground, to make that all work,” Mr Coughlan said.
The engineers and designers tackled every problem and solved the seemingly unsolvable to build the biggest piece of aviation infrastructure in Australia in 30 years.
‘Absolutely brilliant’ strategic move
Now it is set to open with fanfare on Sunday in the middle of the global coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Coughlan (centre) expects air travel to bounce back as it did after the September 11 terror attacks and the GFC.(Supplied: Brisbane Airport Corporation)
Dr Michael Baird, an aviation marketing expert from Curtin University, said the runway was not a wasted investment, even in times of restricted air travel.
“Absolutely not it’s a great investment from Brisbane’s point of view, and it’ll open up into the rest of the world even more so than it currently is,” Dr Baird said.
“As a strategic move, it is it is absolutely brilliant because they have the capacity and they’ll be able to grow for many years it’s a fantastic move and for consumers and airlines alike.”
Dr Baird said most experts expected air travel to recover within three years as the world emerged from the coronavirus crisis.
“A good strategist would say something like ‘this should not cause you to change your long-term plan’,” he said.
“As the airlines, Airbus and Boeing specifically keep building more and better quality long haul aircraft, we’re going to see routes open from Brisbane to further cities in North America, South America, Canada.
“It’s going to be amazing for all sorts of business and leisure travellers.”
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Air travel ‘rebounds very strongly’
Mr Coughlan expects air travel will bounce back as it did after the September 11 terror attacks and other shocks like the global financial crisis (GFC).
“It has always rebounded and it rebounds very strongly and I think that will happen again,” he said.
“It’s in a downturn but the great thing is our borders have been opened.
“We’re already seeing flights picking up I think we’re the busiest airport currently in terms of flight numbers we’re up to 200 a day.
“Most other airports are in the double digits, if they are lucky.”
The new runway project has been in the making for about 16 years.(Supplied: Brisbane Airport Corporation)
After already solving all the problems of building an airport on mud, Mr Coughlan thinks coronavirus would be solved too.
“I think the world will conquer COVID[-19] in some shape or form, and people will have that confidence to travel again,” Mr Coughlan said.
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Having led the project from concept through construction and completion, Mr Coughlan said he was both happy and “melancholy” about it coming to an end, but mostly “incredibly proud”.
“Fifteen years is an epic journey and I survived it and I think my team has survived it,” Mr Coughlan said.
As for all the challenges, Mr Coughlan credited his 93-year-old father who was also an engineer for teaching him to analyse things and put his mind to solving problems.
“I have never forgotten that teaching that life is always about really analysing things and if you put your mind to it, things happen for a reason, which means there’s always solutions,” Mr Coughlan said.
High Intensity Approach Lighting (HIAL) for the second runway glows blue overnight for the safety of boaties.(Supplied: Brisbane Airport Corporation)
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