By Nancy Erickson
Alaska Airlines continues to check projects off its list of $100 million in statewide infrastructure improvements the company announced in 2016.
The airline’s 2020 Great Land Improvement Plan calls for a new $50 million maintenance and engineering hangar currently under construction in Anchorage and upgrades to the 11 airport terminals the air carrier owns and maintains throughout the state, according to Marilyn Romano, Alaska Airlines regional vice president.
That $100-million figure also includes the purchase of three 737-700 all-freighter aircraft intended to better serve customers’ cargo needs with scheduled freight service, part of the company’s investment in its cargo transformation plan.
The new aircraft replace the airline’s five combination passenger-cargo planes.
“Cordova, Yakutat and Kodiak are complete,” Romano said of the planned upgrades. Cornerstone General Contractors is working with KPB Architects on an expansion and complete remodel of the Ralph Wien Memorial Airport in Kotzebue, with completion scheduled for this summer.
KPB will begin work on the remaining terminals — in Nome, Bethel, Petersburg, Wrangell, Barrow, Gustavus and Deadhorse — by 2020, the regional VP added.
Upgrades to these remote airports can prove challenging. Only Deadhorse is accessible by a road, stretching more than 800 miles north of Anchorage at the end of the Dalton Highway.
Making the upgrades now fits perfectly with the values of the No. 1 passenger carrier in Alaska.
“We have been flying in the state for 86 years and currently provide jet service to 19 communities,” Romano said. “The name ‘Alaska’ is on the side of every one of our airplanes, and we feel a sense of responsibility to the people we serve in our state and to the over 1,800 employees who work and live here.”
“Our goal for each terminal upgrade is to include artwork from the local community as well as have dual-language ‘welcome’ signs visible upon arrival at each one,” she added. “We are very proud of our roots here in Alaska.”
Anchorage hangar bigger, better
General contractor Kiewit Building Group Inc. began construction of the 100,000-square-foot hangar on the east side of Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport in 2016. The new hangar will be twice the size of Alaska Airlines’ current 44,000-square-foot facility built in 1954 and designed to accommodate the then-modern Douglas DC-3 aircraft.
“The current hangar is not large enough to hold one of our newer 737-800 or 737-900 aircraft,” Romano said. “The new hangar will be able to hold two, side by side.”
When completed, Alaska’s largest single-span hangar will be large enough to hold three Olympic sized hockey rinks and the height of a typical six-story office building, according to Aaron Steelman, project manager for Kiewit Building Group Inc.
Approximately 465 craft, managers, designers, consultants, inspectors and other employees will work on the new hangar that’s set for completion this fall.
However, a project this size has not been without challenges.
Dealing with an older structure on airport property, the hangar team was prepared when contaminated soils were encountered.
The team had consultants under contract prior to finding contaminated soils, as well as a plan to handle and stockpile soils during inspection and testing,” said Kiel Beloy, vice president and project executive for KBG.
“The sorting and stockpiling of these contaminated soils did not negatively affect the project schedule,” he said.
Another seemingly insurmountable task was how to build and erect the 600,000-pound structural steel hangar door truss.
Problem solved: After weeks of planning and engineering efforts, the huge truss was built on the ground and successfully erected in one section, Beloy said, thanks in part to the expertise of the entire project team.
Kiewit Corporation is one of North America’s largest and most respected construction and engineering organizations, with nearly 70 years of experience working on projects in Alaska.
Remote terminals challenging
Anchorage based Cornerstone General Contractors and KPB Architects recently completed the Kodiak terminal remodel and are now focusing on the Ralph Wien Memorial Airport in Kotzebue, scheduled for completion this fall.
The Benny Benson State Airport in Kodiak received a complete remodel of the interior layout and upgrades to all the building’s systems, said Michael Cohen, project manager. Transportation Security Administration screening operations were also upgraded to meet current standards.
The Kotzebue terminal will undergo similar upgrades. Both projects present unique challenges, Cohen said.
“The challenges of working in remote terminals are twofold: logistics and the unknowns,” Cohen explained.
The most difficult aspect of the Kodiak project was not logistics. It was conducting work in an active terminal with no shutdowns in flight operations. KPB Architects worked directly with on-site terminal personnel to maintain consistent airport schedules.
Alaska Airlines has two incoming and outgoing flights a day out of Kodiak, and Ravn Airlines had up to six flights a day.
“Each airline maintains a critical service to the island which could not be interrupted by construction activities,” Cohen said.
The unknown factor reared its head early on in the Kotzebue project, a village 33 miles north of the Arctic Circle on Alaska’s western coast.
Diesel-contaminated soils were discovered and had migrated to the water table, Cohen said. Cornerstone and Alaska Airlines developed a plan to dewater the site in order to continue construction and remove and properly dispose of the contamination.
“This was done through the creative use of three 20-foot connexs converted to holding tanks and acquisition of a filter capable of processing 50 to 100 gallons per minute,” he added. “The high rate of flow needed to dewater the site was critical to the removal of the contaminants and allowed for the addition of new soils for success of the project.”
Work is progressing to add 3,000 square feet of terminal space, rework the terminal’s interior layout, replace building systems and add a baggage carousel.
“There are always surprises that you find which your team must adapt to and work with the design team to correct,” Cohen said. “Sending an experienced team who can work outside the box is crucial to your success.”
Cornerstone has performed work in Alaska from Juneau to Barrow and is currently home to 20-plus employees and a statewide labor force.
Nancy Erickson is a freelance writer living in Moose Pass.