The Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority gave contractors 60 days to rebuild the runway and terminal at John C. Tune Airport (JWN), and collectively, they rose to the challenge. In order to provide numerous crews with around-the-clock access to multiple worksites, JWN officials closed the airport from June 1 to July 30, 2015.
During the $29 million airfield portion of the project, workers extended the general aviation airport’s sole runway, and added a runway safety area on the north end and an Engineered Material Arresting System (EMAS) bed on the south end.
Projects: Terminal Renovation; Airfield Improvements
Location: John C. Tune Airport (Nashville, TN)
Federal mandates helped prioritize the various projects. “The big drive was not the extension, but the runway safety requirements,” explains Robert Ramsey, the airport authority’s chief engineer. The 500-foot runway extension was added later during planning, when the overall project scope expanded to include the taxiway. The runway extension increased the total cost of the project by $500,000 to $1 million, he notes.
While one contractor worked on airfield improvements, another gutted JWN’s original 1980s era terminal. Crews then outfitted the empty shell with new restrooms, a conference room, coffee bar and updated customer service area for a total cost of $1 million. New monument signage was also added outside.
Although construction occurred last summer, initial planning for JWN’s projects began in 2011. An environmental assessment conducted by engineer of record Atkins determined that a traditional 1,000-foot runway safety zone was not feasible on the south end, due to the Cumberland River and a park at the end of the site. To the north, the land-locked airport is constrained by a bluff. The FAA’s preferred option was to install an EMAS bed on the south end, informs David Schilling, Atkins’ AVP - senior project manager, Aviation Services.
In addition to satisfying new safety area requirements, engineers changed the profile of the runway to meet current FAA standards. Crews milled the old pavement and blended it with fresh crushed aggregates before applying the mix in layers to create the appropriate grade. Some areas required an additional 3 feet of material.
During the project, crews also rebuilt the airport’s taxiway, refurbished one-third of the apron and updated 28 hangars with new concrete floors. Ten miles of new cabling was installed to support more than 150 new LED edge lights for the runway and taxiway.
60 Means 60
Ramsey compares scheduling JWN’s airside and landside projects during a 60-day closure to pulling off a Band-Aid quickly to minimize the associated pain. The only alternative to a total closure raised during early planning sessions was to use the taxiway as a runway during airfield reconstruction. Ultimately, that was not a viable option, because the taxiway was too far from runway standards, he explains. Using the taxiway as a runway would have also stretched out the work for about nine months, with associated operational implications.
As planning progressed, bid specifications for the various projects noted that the 60-day runway closure was not negotiable. Furthermore, contractors were told to bid anticipating around-the-clock construction during the 60 days, adds Ramsey.
In the end, contractors typically worked 18-hour days, although weather delays necessitated some 24-hour stints near the end of the project. Major airfield elements included a 500-foot extension to the airport’s original 5,500-foot runway; installation of a 1,000-foot runway safety zone on the north end; and construction of a 186-foot by 120-foot EMAS bed on the south end.
Runway and taxiway construction were bid a full year prior to the actual work, so contractors could participate in the project planning process, obtain materials and line up necessary equipment. Planners drafted a detailed game plan that sequenced every step of the projects, notes Schilling.
Before officials closed the runway and the “flag dropped” for construction to begin on June 1, crews had already moved 750,000 yards of soil and rocks and staged concrete blocks for construction of the EMAS bed.
To stay on top of the work once it began, the team held weekly executive meetings with principals from all of the contractors. “There was a lot of involvement and accountability,” Ramsey recalls. “If you were not on schedule, we asked, ‘What can we all do to get the project back on schedule?’.”
He recalls one snag developing before the runway reopened, when the electrical airfield contractor fell behind. The prime contractor “stressed the importance” of airfield lighting to the overall project and, ultimately, hired an additional company to assist the original electrical contractor.
After the runway was completed on July 30, crews began rebuilding the taxiway, which was completed in December.
As the primary airport for corporate traffic in the region, flight volume at JWN has grown as Nashville has grown, Ramsey reports. In 2014, the airport handled approximately 72,000 flights. During JWN’s 60-day closure, flights were diverted to Nashville International Airport and other general aviation facilities in the region.
The recent 500-foot runway extension will enable flights into JWN from as far as Houston and Denver without intermediary fueling stops. Currently, the airport has four executive hangars and 125 T hangars; but JWN’s master plan includes building seven to eight new hangars every other year for the next 10 years.
Ramsey characterizes the airport’s current traffic as a “good mix” of corporate and general aviation traffic. Musicians and executives from health care companies and various other businesses are primary corporate clients.
Healthcare and the auto industry are now the primary drivers of the local private economy, he explains. Several hospital groups, Nissan North America and the U.S. headquarters of Bridgestone tires all have headquarters in Nashville.
“During football season, you cannot find a space on the ramp — especially for Vanderbilt’s home games,” he adds.
FAA’s Airport Improvement Program funded 90% of the $27 million runway and taxiway projects, and the state and airport authority each contributed 5%. Ramsey notes that the airport was able to use in-kind material donations for its matching funds by securing excess fill dirt from contractors throughout the region.
A state aviation grant funded 90% of the $1 million apron upgrade; and the airport authority provided the 10% balance.
The $1 million terminal renovation project was funded by state grants (60%) and the airport authority (40%). The authority tapped JWN revenues and obtained a loan from Nashville International Airport to pay for its portion of the project. JWN anticipates repaying the loan with revenue from increased fuel sales and tenant rents.