https://insideDIO.blog.gov.uk/2014/01/27/repairing-runways-safety-comes-first/

Repairing runways - safety comes first

To many, a runway is a short fat road - to me it is a high-risk business in which safety is paramount. Design parameters, especially on the military side, are wide-ranging, the operational impact of down-time for maintenance is often severe, and there is a need for economic solutions.

John Cook, DIO's Head Airfield Pavements Engineer [Crown Copyright]
John Cook, DIO's Head Airfield Pavements Engineer [Crown Copyright]
DIO's Airfield Pavement Team provides an engineering framework for the design, construction and maintenance of pavements on Ministry Of Defence airfields. Given that the age of most of the pavement sub-structures is between 60 and 70 years old, deriving maintenance and restoration solutions and getting value for money is a particular challenge.

If we include overseas airfields, the MOD operates nearly 10 times the number of runways of any of the largest civil airport operators in the UK. There are no British standards covering this field of engineering, hence the team's heavy emphasis on producing and maintaining robust standards and maintenance practices and evolving more cost effective solutions.

In The Office and On Site

I became an Airfield Pavements Engineer more by accident than design. I spent several years as a bridge designer with Lancashire County Council before joining the Department of Environment in 1979, within their Airfield Pavements Branch. You need to have a passion for the subject, acquire extensive knowledge and experience - there is quite a bit of theory but practical experience is much more important - and be able to use that knowledge and experience to make engineering judgements.

When I'm in the office or at meetings I respond to queries on technical standards, aerodrome data, criteria and pavement restoration solutions from DIO Project and Facilities management teams, and command and station staff.

I'm on site about 30 per cent of the time. There, I'm usually monitoring and assisting with the application of construction standards - there is really only one time to get a runway job right - and in particular with the application of new techniques and interim standards. I also spend time on site responding to concerns about the condition and residual life of key airfield pavement infrastructure.

Pilots have to be confident in the quality of the runways they use. Here, an RAF Typhoon takes off at Coningsby. [Photo by SAC Scott Lewis; Crown Copyright]
Pilots have to be confident in the quality of the runways they use. Here, an RAF Typhoon takes off at Coningsby. [Photo by SAC Scott Lewis; Crown Copyright]

An Unusual Job

I've had a few memorable moments in this job. Teaming up with my opposite numbers from the United States Air Force (ASAF) - including their 'in-house' construction team 'Red Horse' – for a joint project to produce a solution to refurbish and upgrade the Ascension Islands runway in 1993 was one.

Key aspects were the unusual circumstances, working with USAF staff as well as our own Command representatives, the need to take account of other national standards and getting too much of a sun-tan!

A member of RAF ground crew directs a Tristar aircraft on the runway [Photo by Sgt Pete Mobbs; Crown Copyright]
A member of RAF ground crew directs a Tristar aircraft [Photo by Sgt Pete Mobbs; Crown Copyright]

Then there was the Mount Pleasant Airfield runway refurbishment on the Falklands Islands. Again, because of the unusual circumstances, the project was a bit tricky due to operational constraints, weather conditions and the remoteness of the site. The Airfield Pavements Team was heavily involved with this project, both in planning and construction, including working closely with the contractor to achieve suitable airfield asphalt given the difficult weather conditions and the constraints in the material supply chain. We may have been working in a remote overseas location, but it was definitely more a case of wind burn, than sun burn!

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