O.R. Tambo Airport – Runway upgrade

OR Tambo International Airport (ORTIA) is situated in Kempton Park in Johannesburg, South Africa, and was opened in 1952. According to the Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA), it’s not only the company’s flagship airport, it’s also the “biggest and busiest airport in Africa.” In March 2018, Lithon Project Consultants was appointed by ACSA to work on the rehabilitation of ORTIA’s two runways as well as its rapid exit taxiways (RETs). Here’s a closer look at this project, which is currently underway.   

Key facts

  • Total project cost: Estimated at R270 million 
  • Scheduled completion date: Construction is expected to be completed in 2021 

Project overview

ORTIA handles over 21 million passengers each year and has the capacity to facilitate 28 million passengers annually. The airport has two runways and handles both domestic and international flights: 03L/21R is the main runway and handles the majority of departures at the airport and 03R/21L is the secondary runway and is mostly used for arrivals.

In 2017, ACSA put out a public tender for the rehabilitation of these runways, and in 2018 Lithon was appointed (in a joint venture) as the engineering consultants responsible for the following aspects of the project: 

  • A detailed investigation. 
  • Rehabilitation designs of the pavements.
  • Compiling of the contract documentation and administration of the contractor procurement process.
  • Full-time site supervision and contract administration for quality control and assurance purposes during the course of the construction stage. 

After the initial investigation process, it was determined that the surfacing mix of 03R/21L had come to the end of its life and the top 20mm needed to be replaced. It was also determined that deeper repairs and structural work were needed for 03L/21R. 

Once the rehabilitation designs of the pavements were complete, Lithon went on to draft a tender document for the contractor procurement process. This critical document contains the project specifications i.e. exactly what needs to be done and how. After another public tender process, ACSA appointed a construction company and construction officially started at ORTIA in 2019.  

Although the construction phase was initially estimated to take two years, it has been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown. Construction is approximately 40% complete and is now likely to finish during the course of 2021. 

Key success factors

Here’s a brief look at some of the factors critical to the project’s success.

  1. Operational safety measures

Working on a construction project at an airport means working in a high-stress and high-risk environment – there are numerous factors to be considered and safety measures to be strictly adhered to at all times. 

  1. The right contractors 

It’s crucial that the right contractor is appointed, that they have the skills and experience to fulfil the project specifications. The engineering firm plays a vital role in the contractor procurement process and is responsible for managing the contractor throughout the construction phase. 

  1. The right suppliers

The quality of the materials is also critical to the success of the project. It’s important to use the right suppliers and procure the right products in order to provide the required level of service and expected life span of the runway.

  1. Time management

As the project is taking place in a live environment, construction is only able to proceed from 12am to 5am each day. The engineering and construction teams work on 3m strips of runway at a time during this short window, and all work needs to be completed by the morning. These tight deadlines and working conditions necessitate meticulous time management.

  1. Absolute precision

All of the construction specifications have to be absolutely precise – there is no room for variation and the exact same mix must be used throughout the rehabilitation process.