A R700 million upgrade of the main runway of South Africa’s premier air force base, AFB Waterkloof in Pretoria, is well underway and engineers expect the base to re-open for limited flight operations next July.
Project chief engineer Bruce Morton says phase one of the project, the reconstruction of the main runway will bring it in compliance with international category 4E standards.
He says this is increasingly important as the airbase handles presidential and very-very-important-person (VVIP) traffic in addition to being a hub for military and humanitarian operations.
The base will in the near future also become home for the SA Air Force Airbus Military A400M Loadmaster airlifters (Project Continent) and is the designated home of the SAAF`s Strategic Airlift Facility (SAF).
Morton says the airbase rebuild encompasses four separate projects:
· Project 1 encompasses the reconstruction of main Runway 0119. It also includes work on several taxiways.
· Project 2 involves the construction of the SAF, consisting of a hardstand area and hangars.
· Project 3 will see the reconstruction of secondary Runway 0624.
· Project 4 requires the installation of new runway and taxiway lighting systems.
The engineer adds that only Project 1 is currently funded, accounting for just short of R700 million. The other improvements must still be costed and contracted for.
Morton continues that the runway project has already seen the demolition of the current concrete hardstands and the removal of asphalt. He says the reconstruction is necessary as there has been no “structural interventions” on the runway for the last 15 years.
The base, established in 1940, is also located on dolomite – and civilian construction is largely banned in the area – which is why it has not been encroached by the suburban sprawl despite laying on otherwise prime land.
Sinkholes are a threat and special measures are being taken to ensure they do not cause an air disaster.
Morton says the northern and southern threshold areas – where the aircraft touch down with massive force – is being excavated to a depth of three metres. The ground is also being compacted by dropping an 18 metric ton weight from a considerable height. “If there is a sinkhole within five metres of any impact point, we will find it.”
The excavations will afterwards host massive 55x55m reinforced concrete rafts, seven in the south and eight in the north. These will be able to absorb the landing force of an Airbus A380 even if there was a sinkhole underneath, Morton says.
Phase 1 of the massive project further includes the vertical realignment of the runway and the construction of a services tunnel underneath the runway to carry all services bar storm water drainage and fuel lines. Morton says keeping the piping exposed will ensure the early detection of water leaks that could cause sinkholes to develop.
Other Phase 1 tasks include “associated” civil engineering work such as further soil stabilisation, limited stormwater drainage upgrades and the installation of runway lighting. This phase is scheduled to end in June 2009, allowing for the re-opening of the runway in July.
Phase 2, from July 2009 to September 2010, will see the comprehensive reconstruction of airside stormwater drainage as well as the rehabilitation of the north section of taxiway Bravo and the east sections of taxiways Charlie and Delta.
It will also see the horizontal and vertical realignment of the southern section of taxiway Bravo and the routine maintenance of other sections of all taxiways not slated for mothballing. Service tunnels will be built under taxiways Alpha and Bravo. Lastly, vegetation will be restored to prevent erosion.
Morton says Project 1 also includes a three-year post construction maintenance contract.
The statistics are impressive. The project requires the removal of 950 000m3 of soil, the laying of 33 350m3 of asphalt, the pouring of 23 000m3 of concrete and 135km of HDPE piping.
The construction of the SAF, on the geologically safe eastern side of the base will be a massive undertaking, involving the construction of a hardstand for eight aircraft and numerous hangars and facilities. These include two maintenance hangars, two more minor maintenance hangars and four storage hangars, in addition to logistical, operational and training facilities for the 60 Squadron, the unit designated to operate the aircraft.
Morton says the hangars will be huge, the largest measuring 65x65x18m high.
Hardstand construction will last from July 2009 to June 2010, hangar construction from September 2010 to January 2011 and facilities building from March 2010 to March 2011.
The project may also see the construction of wash, run-up and compass swing bays.
Work on Runway 0624 should start September next year and be complete by the end of December 2010. Scheduled work includes its complete reconstruction, the building of a services tunnel and the runways` vertical realignment.
Morton says electrical work on the main runway will take place from February to June next year and from June to November 2010.
Additional work contemplated – but not costed or contracted for – includes a new fire station and air traffic control station, a freight handling facility, a medical and casualty evacuation facility and an internal access road.
Morton also said the VVIP facility is being upgraded under Project Jarmen. The work started last month and is slated for completion next July. Jarmen also saw the SAAF acquire a Boeing BBJ for Presidential use and the upgrade of two Dassault Falcon VIP aircraft.