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Auckland Airport Completes Runway Review

Auckland Airport has completed a review into two recent runway closures which has confirmed the safety of the runway and its maintenance programme, highlighted factors contributing to the outages and identified opportunities to improve the time taken for maintenance repairs.

“The review identified ways in which we could have improved our response times, which we have acted on,” said Adrian Littlewood, Auckland Airport’s Chief Executive.

“Like all airports, we do have to occasionally close the runway outside scheduled maintenance closures for safety reasons such as drone sightings or clearing debris, but provided the closures are of short duration there is usually very little impact on flights.

“The two recent closures were longer and management takes full responsibility for the delays and we apologise to the people who had their travel disrupted by these events.”

He said the review’s completion had been brought forward from the original estimate of three weeks because of its importance.

“The review has identified areas where we could have accelerated this type of response maintenance work, and we have already put its recommended steps into effect.”

Mr Littlewood said that safety always came first, and the airport remained confident in the safety and integrity of the runway and airfield maintenance programme, which continued to be endorsed by independent experts.

There are approximately 180,000 flights per year and 500 flights per day at Auckland Airport. As a single runway operation, the runway is available more than 99% of the time according to publicly reported annual reliability data.

Longer unscheduled maintenance outages are rare events, with four unplanned closures of longer than 15 minutes since January 2018, including the two most recent outages.

Summary of review

Operational runway restrictions

  • There were two temporary outages of the runway on 24 January and 6 February 2020 after faults were identified in the corner of two pavement sections in different locations within the eastern touch down zone.
  • The runway restrictions largely impacted arriving flights. Maintenance teams take a safety-first approach and on both occasions they decided to carry out works immediately instead of during the normal twice-weekly scheduled runway closure windows for maintenance (1.30 - 4.30am on Saturdays and Mondays).
  • Faults can occasionally occur in runway pavement (450-500mm thick) and can be more common in extended periods of dry and hot weather due to increased thermal expansion of the concrete.
  • Independent experts have said the unusually hot and dry weather Auckland has experienced this summer contributed to the faults occurring.

Maintenance response time

  • The restricted runway operations on 24 January and 6 February were 43 and 68 minutes respectively – longer than the 20 minute-period that should have been required to carry out the maintenance works. This was because of a combination of factors including the time to assemble specialist tools, the location of certain resources and the methods chosen to remedy the faults.
    • On 6 February the team took a safety-first view and adopted a more comprehensive immediate repair, which required different tools and took longer. Auckland Airport has a range of maintenance options available and the review has found alternative methods could have been applied which would have shortened the outages.
    • On both occasions the review found certain tools could have been made available in a more readily accessible location to assist in shortening the response time. At the time of the most recent incidents our on-call maintenance response teams were working well away from the impacted area (airside area spans 300ha) and it took time for them to relocate.
    • Auckland Airport has a policy of continuous improvement and standard operating procedures have now been updated to reflect the findings from these events, including positioning further maintenance kit airside for rapid response requirements. Further training will also be provided to support decision making in risk assessment and remediation methods.

Asset management

  • The runway is Auckland Airport’s key asset and our comprehensive asset-management plan includes continuous monitoring of the airfield with inspections undertaken multiple times daily, weekly and monthly.
  • Between 2015 and 2019, $48 million has been spent on pavement replacement and airfield maintenance. Auckland Airport is investing heavily in its airfield with $720 million to be spent over the next four years in upgrading, maintaining and expanding the airfield.
  • Auckland Airport closely monitors and reviews all requirements for upgrading and maintaining the airfield infrastructure. Originally constructed in 1965, the runway has been developed and renewed over the years through regular and continuous monitoring, maintenance and pavement replacement – a structured programme of work that follows recognised standards and is overseen by independent engineering experts. The programme includes:
    • A continuous programme of budgeted and planned pavement replacement.
    • A comprehensive programme of planned maintenance to protect the runway’s operations including twice-weekly scheduled runway closures for planned and preventative works as is standard practice for airports around the world.
    • Auckland Airport has now increased monitoring and resourcing, including doubling the frequency of daily airfield inspections.
  • A number of issues may cause a runway to temporarily close, such as aircraft emergencies, weather, drone sightings, wildlife or other foreign object debris (FOD) on the runway.
  • Unscheduled runway outages for maintenance are also part of operating runways around the world and can be expected from time to time at Auckland Airport. Providing for these is an important part of a proactive safety culture and our Safety Management System to manage risk.
  • A section of the eastern touch down zone (approximately 4.5% of the runway pavement) where the two recent faults occurred had already been planned, budgeted and scheduled for replacement as part of our upgrade programme. Like the rest of the runway, the pavement in both touch down areas is continuously monitored by internal and external experts. There is another small section of runway (approximately 1%) that has also been scheduled for replacement within the next five years at the western end of the runway.
  • Auckland Airport has been consulting with aviation authorities and independent experts on planned runway works. Design and procurement are already underway for long-lead items and new jet blast deflector fences to protect work sites during runway works.
  • The airport discussed the runway works with airlines last year and identified timing options for the pavement replacement to take place, with the airport’s preference being September 2020.

Further background information:

Runway maintenance

  • Faults can occur to the surface of runway pavement, including in the touchdown zone subject to impact loading of aircraft. There are a range of maintenance options which are global standard practice for concrete pavement runways. These repairs are effective in minutes.
  • These measures are monitored and replaced with permanent solutions during normal scheduled runway maintenance closures (1.30 - 4.30am Saturdays and Mondays).
  • We do everything possible to ensure the runway is clear of FOD, including rubber from aircraft tyres, rubbish, wildlife or other foreign objects.

Infrastructure investment programme

  • Auckland Airport is investing heavily in its airfield with $720 million to be spent over the next four years in upgrading, maintaining and expanding the airfield.
  • This is part of a multi-billion-dollar infrastructure investment programme at Auckland Airport to accommodate the 40 million-plus passengers and 260,000 flights that are expected by 2044. This programme of works is focused around eight key anchor projects, including a new domestic jet facility, roading improvements to enable public transport and a second runway.

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