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Calgary airport project aims to be first in Canada to attain Envision certification

Grant Cameron
Calgary airport project aims to be first in Canada to attain Envision certification

Sustainability will be top of mind when the Calgary Airport Authority (CAA) moves ahead this year with the removal and replacement of one of three critical runways at the landing field.

The undertaking will be the first airport project in Canada to be certified under the Envision framework, which was developed by the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure for incorporating systemic changes in the planning, design and delivery of sustainable civil infrastructure.

The project will start this spring. The existing runway pavement will be removed and replaced over a two-year period and upgrades will be made to aging runway electrical and drainage systems.

Existing taxiways and other aircraft movement surfaces will also be improved and technology will be added that will make it easier for aircraft to land when visibility is less than optimal.

“We’re going to be starting construction with the first closures starting in April of this year,” says Laura Samson, director of infrastructure for the CAA. “We’ll continue having two runways at all times so that we can support the commercial schedule of our partners during construction.”

The project, officially known as the West Runway Rehabilitation, has been in the works since 2019. It was put on hold during COVID-19 but was restarted in 2021. The design was completed in 2022. Stakeholders were consulted throughout the project and Samson says that effort will continue.

“One of the fundamental parts of this project is making sure that all of our internal/external stakeholders and partners are aligned with the work that we’re doing.”

After extensive evaluation, PCL Construction was selected as construction manager for the project. The company has completed more than $1 billion in civil infrastructure at the airport over the last 15 years. Up to 300 construction workers are expected to work on the project over two years.


Removing all the layers

The runway at the Calgary airport is around four kilometres long and is the second longest in Canada.

The existing pavement will be fully removed in sections, much the same as is done with highway and road construction projects.

“We’re doing a full removal and rehab of the structure, so more than just the top layer,” explains Samson. “We’re actually going to be removing quite a bit of the structural components as well. All of that material is going to be repurposed and recycled back into the runway.

“The overall methodology for installing the structure and installing the asphalt is exactly how you’d do it on a roadway as well.”

Most of the new runway will be asphalt with concrete thresholds. It is expected to last at least 50 years.

The first section of the runway has been in service since 1939, so the pavement was due for an overhaul.

“Obviously construction techniques and tactics have changed significantly since before the Second World War and also the type of aircraft has changed significantly as well,” says Samson. “We have been continuing to maintain the runway and it remains in safe working operations even up until today, but we’ve been tracking it and know that it is coming to the end of its life.”

Work on the runway will be done in sections. Part of it will be done this year and the rest will be completed in 2025. The tricky part will be doing the work while the other runways are in operation.

“Certainly, working at an airport is different than many of the typical construction sites,” says Samson. “Once an area has been closed down, it’s pretty well closed for good until it’s been rebuilt. They’ll remove all the material, haul it to a site just adjacent to the runway and process all the material there and then they’ll use that material and come back and rebuild it.”


The vision to attaining Envision

Throughout the Calgary airport project, the CAA and PCL will be working towards the Envision certification. Under the framework, a points system is used to acquire different levels of certifications.

As part of the project, contractors will be using a special type of concrete whereby a dosage of carbon dioxide captured from the air using carbon capture technology is injected into fresh concrete during the mixing process where it mineralizes and cuts out the need for cement – the part of the concrete with the biggest carbon footprint. The CO2 remains embedded in the concrete.

“It’s already had the chemical reaction,” says Samson. “It’s in there forever, so it won’t be released into the atmosphere at any time.”

The airport authority will also be working with contractors to reuse water runoff and ensure there is minimal idling of vehicles onsite.

According to Chris Miles, chief operating officer at the CAA, the runway rehabilitation is a keystone project that will play a pivotal role in the long-term success of the airport and Calgary region.

Alistair McKnight, PCL’s district manager for Calgary and southern Alberta, says the company’s team of experts will ensure the airport continues to operate while the runway is rebuilt.

“We are grateful for the authority’s continued trust and partnership with PCL as we embark on this important project with them.”


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