2017 is a new year for opportunity and change here at the Greater Binghamton Airport (BGM). Our biggest project planned for this year has been happening all month with the reconstruction of our main runway, 16/34 (the numbers are derived from the compass heading each approach end points).
After thousands of tires touching down the centerline and a fleet of snowplows scraping its surface, our long runway needed to be redone. To accomplish this, BGM’s Department of Aviation obtained $11.9 million in Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grants, a state Department of Transportation (DOT) grant, and Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) funds to fill the need.
After receiving the funding, a bid was put out and L&T Construction of Richmondville, NY was awarded the contract. L&T is currently working with McFarland Johnson of Binghamton, NY and a handful of other companies to accomplish this large project. In total, seven companies are working together on our new runway.
How do you get ready for something this big, you may ask? One word: planning. This project’s planning started in 2015 with the selection of the best time of year to do this project that had the least interference with BGM’s and the airline’s normal operations.
Notifications were sent and the surveying began. For a project this big with only one month to complete, there is no room for surprises for McFarland Johnson and L&T Construction. This makes accurate surveying critical. At the same time, research also goes into the current pavement, the runway’s electric grid, access points, staging areas, equipment needed, security protocol and badging, and much more. Planning is key for a well-paved runway surface that will last.
To start building our new and improved main runway at BGM, about 480,000 sqft. of asphalt milling had to take place. That equates to about 50 football fields of asphalt being scraped up and milled into pebble-size chunks. Certain areas also included about 99,000 sqft. of sub base that required removal. These spots are then filled in with 108,000 sqft. of new base.
Then comes the tedious compacting of the base to prepare it for paving. To ensure complete safety and accuracy before any paving occurs, the compaction is tested with asphalt strips. Once it shows a promising, successful result, the paving process may begin. About 52,000 tons of asphalt is transported onto the airport grounds to be paved. In the meantime, workers lay about 25,000 ft. (approximately 5 miles) of lighting cables to the 67 new runway edge lights that line the runway. Once pavement is complete, the FAA requires special grooving in the asphalt to give aircraft more traction in bad weather conditions. For our project’s purposes, there will be 348,000 sqft. of grooves on BGM’s runway. The last step is to paint markings, which will cover about 143,000 sqft. of the runway’s surface to help aircraft navigate and mark safety area boundaries.
A project of this scale completed in only one month’s time requires the most efficient use of time possible. This means around the clock work being done at the airport. There are day and night shifts of 15 to 20 workers on the clock at all times from L&T alone. Portable light towers line the edge of the entire runway to make night work possible.
As for equipment, the team is using two large pavers, two pavement millers, seven end dumps (or off-road trucks), seven vibrating compactors, four excavators, five bulldozers, and a variety of other complex, specialized equipment. One such machine is a road grader that uses computerized and robotic systems to grade the runway base layer to perfect dimensions.
At peak production, there can be 15-20 dump trucks, asphalt trucks, and delivery trucks on the road at a time. Most of the crew also has trucks to get up and down the runway. There is always something being done at any time of day to ensure this project is completed on time.
Airport operations must maintain certain safety measures to keep operating aircraft safe and the airport secure during construction of this magnitude. Constant checks are done on the construction barriers set in place to prevent aircraft from moving or landing on the closed surface. Our other runway that has remained active for non-commercial flights this month is constantly checked for any debris or construction material that may have ended up on it.
Vehicles or persons wishing to enter the active surface require contact to the air traffic control tower to gain access. Since most construction vehicles on site do not have air radios, airport operations also takes care of these escorts.
Lastly, security is another important responsibility of operations. We issue airport access badges and do constant security checks of the access gates for the construction zones.
The airline industry is one of the fastest-changing industries in the world. For smaller, regional airports to compete, they must be up-to-date on all the latest innovations and technologies. This is why the runway reconstruction is a step in the right direction for the community BGM proudly serves. This runway project employs hundreds of people that are part of our community. In addition, it keeps grant money and other funds within Broome County.
Not only is BGM getting a new runway, but the wealth is shared in the many people working to make this dream a reality.