Night shift for $18m runway upgrade


Every night at Queenstown Airport, soon after the last aircraft has touched down, its runway begins to resemble the set of a blockbuster alien invasion movie.

Lighting towers are scattered across its black expanse, splashing pools of light on small teams of helmeted workers.

At the northeastern corner, near Glenda Dr, a small village has formed. It consists of Portacabins, utes and trucks, spotlit silos and vast mounds of gravel.

While the rest of Queenstown’s inhabitants are watching telly, drinking in bars or sleeping, the airport’s runway is getting an $18million makeover.

Contractor Downer is more than halfway through a six-month project to widen the runway from 30m to 45m, and to install new runway, taxiway, apron and approach lights.

Due to be finished in April, it will allow the airport to accommodate after-dark flights, which Air New Zealand has scheduled to begin on July 1.

The improvements are conditions set by New Zealand and Australia’s civil aviation authorities when they approved the airport’s safety case for after-dark flights in 2014.

Downer projects construction manager Craig McKenzie said the project was about 60 per cent complete.

The runway had already been widened with 28,000 tonnes of cement-treated base.

The critical phase of the project – laying a 110mm layer of asphalt over the widened runway – had begun about a fortnight ago, beginning at the western end.

Up to 40 staff were on the job, working from 5.30pm to 4am.

The asphalt paving crew, most of them based in Tauranga, worked on roading and runway projects throughout the country, Mr McKenzie said.

“The surfacing guys love working with the black stuff. A lot of their work is at night.”

They were using $4million worth of new kit: a state-of-the-art paving machine and a huge but transportable asphalt mixing plant.

The company flew in its workers for two-week stints, with a two-day break in the middle, he said.

Because the majority were working at night, monitoring fatigue was crucial.

They were frequently surveyed about their sleep patterns and eating and drinking habits.

They were encouraged to watch for signs of fatigue among their workmates, and to tell their supervisors if they were feeling tired so they could be rested or sent home to bed.

An airport spokeswoman said four complaints about the works from nearby residents had been received, all of them in the past few weeks.

The complaints were about the “beeping” of reversing vehicles or vibrations, she said.