President Jacob Zuma will this afternoon re-open the main runway of Air Force Base Waterkloof in Pretoria that has been closed since 2006 for a R700 million reconstruction of the main runway and adjacent taxiways.
Air Force chief Lt Gen Carlo Gagiano in April said he expected the handover in July. Work on Phase 1of the project – the main runway and some related infrastructure – was meant to be complete by end-June, allowing the flying service to resume operations from there – rather than OR Tambo International Airport and Swartkop Airfield – in July.
“It has been a little bit delayed… hopefully by June-July we will be ready to move back,” Gagiano said. “It is very important for us,” he told defenceWeb at the time.
He noted rain had not been an issue as much as draining off the water. “There were times we had continuous rain for a long time, some substantial rain… There is a shopping centre going up near my house and I noticed they also battled with huge dams of water.”
Gagiano said alternative flying operations from Swartkop, OR Tambo and Lanseria were expensive. “…it is costing us a lot of money to keep the VIP aircraft at OR Tambo, the people moving backwards and forward, the security, it is very expensive and we`d like to regroup back at Waterkloof.”
Project chief engineer Bruce Morton last November told journalists the work was in compliance with international category 4E standards.
He said this is increasingly important as the airbase handled presidential and very-very-important-person (VVIP) traffic in addition to being a hub for military and humanitarian operations.
The base is also slated to be the home of the SAAF’s Airbus Military A400M Loadmaster airlifters (Project Continent) and is the designated home of the SAAF`s Strategic Airlift Facility (SAF).
Morton said the airbase rebuild encompassed four separate projects:
· Project 1 was the now-completed reconstruction of main Runway 0119 and 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.
At the time only Project 1 was funded, accounting for just short of R700 million.
The Medium Term Budget Policy Statement tabled by Finance minister Pravin Gordhan on Tuesday allocated R82.154 million “for upgrading the runway at Waterkloof Air Force Base.” It is not yet clear if this will fund Project 2 only or all three remaining projects.
Morton said that by November last year the runway project had already seen the demolition of the concrete hardstands and the removal of asphalt. Reconstruction was necessary as there had 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 were taken to ensure they do not cause an air disaster.
Morton said the northern and southern threshold areas – where the aircraft touch down with massive force – was being excavated to a depth of three metres. The ground was 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 would 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 said.
Phase 1 of the massive project further included 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 said keeping the piping exposed would ensure the early detection of water leaks that could cause sinkholes to develop.
Other Phase 1 tasks included “associated” civil engineering work such as further soil stabilisation, limited stormwater drainage upgrades and the installation of runway lighting.
Phase 2, then scheduled from July 2009 to September 2010, would 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 would 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 were to be built under taxiways Alpha and Bravo. Lastly, vegetation was to be restored to prevent erosion.
The statistics were impressive. The project required 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 have started in September and would have been complete by the end of December 2010. Scheduled work included its complete reconstruction, the building of a services tunnel and the runways` vertical realignment.
Morton said electrical work on the main runway would take place from February to June this year and from June to November next year.
Additional work contemplated – but not costed or contracted for – included 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 was being upgraded under Project Jarmen. The work started last October and was slated for completion this past July. Jarmen also saw the SAAF acquire a Boeing BBJ for Presidential use and the upgrade of two Dassault Falcon VIP aircraft.
Pic: AFB Waterkloof from the air, November 2008. The potholed brown line across the middle of the photograph is the trace of the main runway, then something of a mudbath.