Sunshine Coast Airport opens new runway

With the commissioning of Sunshine Coast Airport's new runway 13/31 on 14 June 2020, Managing Director, Keith Tonkin reflects on his involvement in the project and what it takes to plan and deliver such a significant piece of aviation infrastructure.

The Plan

In 2008 I was working towards the next phase of my career. I didn't know it yet, but I was about to take leave without pay then resign from my job as an airline pilot, and achieve my goal of becoming an aviation consultant.

It seemed that I needed an MBA to be a good consultant, so I had enrolled in a Master of Business Administration (Aviation Management) at RMIT University. All I needed to complete the course was to deliver a final research project.

I had been working with Sunshine Coast Airport's small management team, led by Peter Pallot, on a few different jobs at the time, mostly around risk management and aircraft operations/planning. The new runway 13/31 had been planned for decades, with successive master plans and planning schemes identifying and protecting the preferred alignment (plus or minus a bit).

The management team wanted to understand the overall project program so that it could prepare a long term financial plan for its delivery, and my offer to prepare a project strategy was gratefully accepted. (From an academic perspective, this wasn't really a research project, but I managed to convince my course supervisor that it would be a lot more useful to work through a real-life problem than doing something for the sake of it.)

So after a few iterations, I managed to finalise what we called the Sunshine Coast Airport New Runway Project Strategy in July 2008. The overall timeline with nominated Project Gates is provided below.

The date we established 12 years ago for completion of the new runway was February 2020. Given everything that has gone on in the intervening years, including the current COVID-19 pandemic, a difference of four months is really quite insignificant!

The obstacles

In 2008 we knew there would be obstacles to achieving the project. But we didn't know the GFC was just around the corner - just when a bunch of money was needed to prepare a detailed environmental impact statement, the unpopular plan to close Caloundra Aerodrome in 2014 would be withdrawn (bringing problems associated with encroaching residential development - another story), Noosa Shire would de-amalgamate from Sunshine Coast Council, or the really big $$ number for the project would get even bigger through unexpected issues like PFAS (among others).

The project strategy identified Funding Secured in mid-2016 as one of the six project gates. It would be fair to say that many options for this funding were explored before Sunshine Coast Council reached a commercial agreement with Palisade Investment Partners in early 2017.

New airspace and flight paths were planned, exhibited and refined through extensive stakeholder consultation, reviewed again after vociferous input and finally validated and approved for operational use.

And more recently a literal obstacle (actually a lot of obstacles) eventuated as a result of changes to the Manual of Standards which required lower approach surfaces (among a number of other changes to applicable standards), resulting in some last minute changes to infrastructure arrangements and the external obstacle environment.

The outcome

So 12 years later here we are - the runway is set for take-off . The result of dedicated commitment from Sunshine Coast Council and its community, Sunshine Coast Airport, the project delivery team and associated stakeholders.

The key takeaway is that it takes time (sometimes decades), money (more than you think) and dedicated effort (preferably planned, but often reactive) to deliver significant aviation infrastructure like a new runway. There will be many opportunities to defer such a project in lieu of other more easily achievable outcomes, but the benefits are recognised and valued well beyond the sacrifices required for its delivery.

The main image (courtesy of Sunshine Coast Council) shows the view along runway 13, the predominant into-wind runway direction. For keen observers there's a bit of linemarking to remove before aircraft can use it.

Tags: Project Strategy, Stakeholder Consultation, Runway, Aviation Infrastructure

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