In the early 2010s, the Calgary International Airport (YYC) set an ambitious goal. The airport needed to grow to better serve its passengers. Its plans called for a new runway that would accommodate a 30 percent increase in air traffic. This turned out to be warranted, as 18.5 million passengers traveled through YYC in 2023. To meet that need and to address the fact that at higher altitudes such as the location of YYC, the air is less dense, which means aircraft require longer distances to achieve the necessary lift for takeoff and safe landing, the airport runway would need to be over four kilometers long—the longest in Canada.

PCL teamed up with Parsons (smart aviation infrastructure consultants) and Dufferin Construction (largest paving company in Canada) to build the new runway and associated facilities over three years. The team tackled three major challenges: the zero tolerance for error, the often-harsh weather in Calgary, and the logistics of placing 400,000 cubic meters of concrete with precision in a bustling airport without disrupting mission-critical operations.

A runway is a seemingly simple slab of concrete in the same sense that a pair of eyeglasses is a simple set of lenses—yet the smallest details must be correct. To meet this standard on a job of this scale, the build team used dedicated surveyors and quality inspectors for each package of trade work. The quality team grew to 30 people during construction. To stay on schedule, PCL also used a tracking and graphing system for each contractor that was published every week to the entire team.

Calgary’s long winters meant that most of the runway work had to happen in a short six-week window each year. This was compounded by unusually wet springs in 2011 and 2012 and by historic flooding throughout Southern Alberta in June 2013.

PCL and its partners addressed this with hard work and collaboration. We tapped our networks to call on extra equipment and workers. Teams worked in two shifts, seven days a week. This included a crew of PCL's own forces responsible for quality checks on surveying operations to ensure grading and paving operations were performed to a high standard of quality. PCL also employed a service team responsible for site water management, signage and delineation of work areas, which is a highly coordinated effort over four kilometers of the runway, plus thousands of meters of interconnecting taxi and laneways that support new runway complete operations.

To keep them and the hundreds of trucks and pieces of equipment coordinated and supplied, the team developed a highly granular 24/7 logistics plan. We also built a temporary and mobile road network that was continually relocated during construction to minimize operational disruption.

When the dust settled, the team had moved 8.5 million cubic meters of earthworks (that’s enough to fill 3,400 Olympic-sized swimming pools) and distributed 400,000 cubic meters of slipform concrete and 650,000 cubic meters of gravel over a project site bigger than 1,000 acres (or 200 city blocks in Manhattan!).

The airport’s new 4,270 meter-long runway—along with a series of high-speed taxiways, an aircraft parking apron and two new underpasses—were completed on schedule and on budget.

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