THE €15m upgrading of the runway at Shannon Airport is proving a "triumph of logistics" with the equivalent of one football pitch being re-laid at midnight each night.
The airport has revealed that the works - involving a team of 90 vehicles and 70 people rolling in for over four hours work on the 3,200m runway - have seen enough asphalt to cover an entire football pitch being laid each night.
In all, some 50,000 tonnes of asphalt will be laid – equating to 72 football pitches - as part of the project, which will run to October, but will take place nightly before early morning flights resume.
Shannon Airport Operations Director Niall Maloney explained: “It is quite a complex job because not alone is there a huge volume of work being done but there’s a huge focus on the clock and, particularly, on safety. The runway must be open and operational every morning for our first transatlantic customers before 6am.
"To ensure this happens our own dedicated Shannon Airport project team, working with our contractor, take 90 minutes to run all the necessary safety checks before that can happen.
"It’s a well-rehearsed activity by our contractor, Lagan Asphalt. Literally, a chain of vehicles arrive on site as soon as the last flight is processed. Planers, tarmacadam trucks, empty lorries, rollers – up to 70 vehicles roll onto the runway for the works every night. By the time we are finished in October we will have a brand new surface that will serve the airport and the region for the next 25 years," he added.
The overlaying of the runway – €10m in funds for which were loaned from the State through the Irish Strategic Investment Fund – started in April and will take approximately 26 weeks to complete.
Work on the project includes the rehabilitation of the runway surface, the replacement of runway edge and centre line lighting with energy efficient LED lighting, ducting and other associated works.
The runway is the longest in Ireland at 3,199m (almost two miles) and the upgrading works are intended to ensure that Shannon continues to meet regulations governing the operation and specification of runways at major airports.
Shannon managing director Andrew Murphy said the project was "part of an overall €20 million plus programme here at Shannon Airport that is focussed on works at the terminal building itself to the runway".
The airport’s runway, built in 1961, was last fully rehabilitated in 1983 and has under gone regular maintenance over the intervening years. A full resurfacing of 2,400m of the 3,199m runway is now required.
The upgrading works followed the announcement by the Shannon Group that it was introducing a range of cost-cutting measures at Shannon, which will include reducing the status of the airport and have the effect of restricting the number of larger airlines transiting through it.
The measures are to allow for a €44 million investment programme over the next five years – including the €15m runway project. To facilitate the investment, it is also reducing the status of the airport to category seven from category nine.
Transport minister Shane Ross insisted recently that the airport was not downgrading as a result but instead operating “more efficiently”.