Future-proofing Tauranga Airport

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Contractors are putting the final touches to a major revamp of the Tauranga Airport terminal, which has more than doubled its footprint and is designed to future-proof the regional flight hub for anticipated continued passenger growth.

The massive $13.7 million project is being funded with around $3 million from the airport’s cash reserves, plus financing based on expected revenues over the next decade or so, with key client Air New Zealand having a major input into the concept and execution, including paying for the fitout of its passenger facilities.

The redevelopment has increased the airport’s size from the previous floor area of 1732 sqm, to around 3866 sqm, has created a fresh, contemporary look and has also incorporated a more efficient and flexible processing system for passengers, said Tauranga Airport Authority chief executive Ray Dumble.

“The biggest challenge has been keeping the airport open, operational and safe while we have been carrying out a major construction project,” said Dumble, a former pilot, whose 16 years in charge of the airport have made him intimately familiar with every facet of its operations.

“The staff has put up with a lot and we’ve done the best we can to ensure passengers have had minimum disruption,” he said.

“And the public have been magnificent. I’ve found the people of Tauranga have been particularly understanding. They see the airport changes as a symbol of the city and the region’s growth.”

Our airport keeps pace with the needs and aspirations of the community,” he said.

“It’s great to see the expansion and redevelopment of the airport terminal. It provides additional capacity, a modern environment and is something that the community can be proud of.”

The decision to redevelop the airport came out of its regular review and planning process.  The airport is owned by Tauranga City Council, but is a stand alone business unit that requires no ratepayer funding.

The airport currently runs an operating surplus in excess of $1.5 million per annum. It is the eighth busiest airport in the country and the third busiest for general aviation.Its annual revenue is currently $7 million, made up of landing fees, parking charges and rentals. Expenses are made up of administration costs, airfield, runway and building maintenance, depreciation and debt servicing.

Around three years ago, it was time for a scheduled five-yearly  master plan review and that showed that the airport was then almost at capacity, said Dumble.

“The airport operates under a master plan, which future-proofs us,” he said.

“We don’t do any haphazard development – we forecast where we want to be.”

Strategic review

As it was time for a major strategic review, the airport bro

ught in independent consultants AirBiz and fed in growth and tourism figures, airline growth patterns, migration figures and other relevant data.

“That review showed we were nearly operating at capacity then and would be at capacity by the time we got this built,” said Dumble. “And there were no indications of a slowdown.”

Three years ago, the airport was handling around 280,000 per annum, and numbers were now up to around 430,000 per annum by the end of 2018, he said.

The airport, working with Air New Zealand, chose Auckland-headquartered Jasmax Architects to develop a concept design which met both parties’ needs.

Once the concept was fully developed, it was put out to tender, with Naylor Love winning the role as lead construction contractor.

Dumble noted that they put the tender out to five companies rather than the usual three, to take into account the amount of commercial construction activity in New Zealand. (see accompanying story on the airport’s construction)

He said Air New Zealand, as the key user of the airport, was a significant partner in the process.

“We discussed it with Air New Zealand from the original concept to the final plan to ensure it would reflect its needs going forward,” he said.

Tauranga Airport’s Ray Dumble, Jasmax Architects’ Phillip Bond and Air New Zealand’s
Bill Reeves discuss the airport development. Photo/Tom Ross. Tauranga Airport Authority.

“The big thing was handling arrivals and departures and we flipped this around so they are now totally separate, which allows for much more flexibility – especially in handling business passengers.”

Air New Zealand’s head of regional affairs, Reuben Levermore, said Tauranga was an important port on the airline’s domestic network. Last November the airline announced increased capacity into and out of Tauranga, with extra flights to operate between the city and both Auckland and Wellington from April this year.

“Demand for flights into and out of the region continues to strengthen, from business and leisure travellers,” he said.

“We have been working closely with Tauranga Airport on its terminal redevelopment programme and look forward to completion.”

Levermore said the redevelopment project had enabled the airline to significantly expand its regional lounge at Tauranga Airport.

The new space, which opened in December 2018, now caters for around 90 customers, nearly double the seating previously available.

The lounge also offers different zones to meet customer needs, including a café, buffet and light refreshments, a self-service drinks station, and a mix of business, lounge and quiet seating areas.

“We are committed to continuing to work closely with stakeholders in the region – such as the airport, council, Tauranga Chamber of Commerce, economic development agency Priority One and Tourism Bay of Plenty, to support the growth of tourism and the needs of the region. “

Ray Dumble said the terminal expansion had been great for the region, for tourism and business.

“It’s very important for the business people who come into Tauranga,” he said.

“They often come for the day and if their meetings finish at 3pm, they now have a much more attractive and usable space to sit and work until their flight.”

As well as having served as an airline pilot, Dumble also has experience in property development, which has come in handy during the planning and construction process.

“Having been there from day one, one of the most satisfying things for me is looking at the original artist’s impression and comparing it with what we now have. We have built what we said we
would build.”

Construction and design challenges

The terminal redesign and rebuild has been a challenging exercise, which has essentially involved joining the new section onto the original building.

The centre piece of the extension is the new departures lounge structure with its unique glulam beams, which allowed the use of green materials and local suppliers to form a robust finished product in a high value space, said consultants on the project.

Kris MacCauley, Waikato/BOP director of lead contractor Naylor Love, told Bay of Plenty Business News the
airport had been logistically challenging, but the firm and the clients were very pleased with the results.

One issue that had to be dealt with was to ensure that the new terminal was properly tied down to ensure the overall terminal met current earthquake standards.

Fortunately, that was resolved by the use of relatively thin screw piles welded together and driven to around 25 metres down to reach bed rock, using a bob cat, which caused minimal disruption.

Naylor Love project manager Simon Litten said a major logistical problem throughout had been ensuring that passengers were still able to get easily from check-in to aircraft while the construction was underway.

“We had to keep everything clear and work in closely with the air traffic control,” he said.

“The feedback was that so long as we let them know and had an advanced plan it wasn’t a problem. They’ve obviously been waiting for this development for a long time and airport staff were keen to keep everything going.”

MacCauley said the distinctive glulam beams – which were built offsite in a factory – were delivered in three pieces and bolted together and raised on the site.

“Staging was the most difficult part of the project,” he said.

“The work plan each day was OK, but then you had to demobilise and regularly redirect each other.”

Litten noted that the job grew over the year or so of construction from having 10 to around 50 people on site every week.

“We worked very closely with Air New Zealand staff, and the Airport Authority used to put a barbecue on for us every second week,” he said.

“That gave a chance for all the airport staff who had seen something going on to chat to the  builders and it made sure everyone got to know everyone.”

Naylor Love is New Zealand’s biggest independently owned construction company, with a staff of around 500 spread over six divisions, in Queenstown, Christchurch, Dunedin, Wellington, Waikato/BOP and Auckland.

MacCauley said the airport development had been a very high profile project for Naylor Love in Bay of Plenty.

“We’ve been active in the BOP for the last seven years, but this has been the project to really put us on the map, with people coming and going at the airport.

Functionality a key design theme

Nick Moyes, a principal with Jasmax Architects, says functionality was a key driver of the process.

“We saw our role as trying to provide a very simple plan for future expansion,” he said.

One of the design changes involved flipping the arrivals and departure process 180 degrees, which had helped future-proof the building, said Moyes.

“It was really us trying to respond to a legacy project with an approach that allows for much more simple development into the future. If in say 10 or 15 years time they want to expand again it’s very simple to do so.”

Moyes noted that Phillip Bond, the Jasmax representative responsible for the project in Tauranga, was the key designer and had run the project with the client right through the process.

“Phillip has the key ownership of the design and coordination of the construction on site – he has been instrumental in the success of the project.”

One of the most striking aspects of the new terminal has been the use of curved glulam wooden beans, which in their gentle curves aim to mirror the shape of Mount Maunganui, said Moyes.

“We were looking for materials that were very robust and would allow for the wear and tear airports get and allow that to be fixed very easily.

“We wanted to find materials that will improve over the duration and will still look lovely in 15 or 50 years time.”

Moyes said there were challenges marrying the new building with the old and making sure floor heights matched.

“The airport had gone through a piecemeal expansion. We saw a key part of our role was to strip off the bits that weren’t needed so it would function very well.”

Bringing the project to life

Beca has been working with the airport and Jasmax to undertake the building services, fire engineering and structural design services for the upgrade to bring the proposed plans to life.

Mark Preston, Beca’s job director for the project, said the team was excited by the challenge of progressing the plans for expansion quickly.

“Tauranga Airport was keen to move from concept to developed design in one stage in order to keep pace with the architectural design,” he said.

“This was happening concurrently with a structural seismic assessment of the existing buildings to ensure the results and advice were incorporated into the design of the new structure.”

Tauranga Airport had to meet the site’s seismic challenges. The liquefaction-sensitive soils in the area required unusual structural solutions, including the deep screw piles, to strengthen the building’s overall design.

Naylor Love’s Kris MacCauley and Simon Litten: managing challenging build logistics. Photo/Naylor Love.

“We were able to workshop foundation options at the early design stage of the project utilising early contractor involvement to assess and proceed with the best for project foundation design,” said Preston.

“Ultimately, this reduced the complexity and construction costs of the project, which is great for our client.”

Naylor Love’s Kris MacCauley said the project had gone very smoothly.

“We worked with good clients – Air New Zealand and the Tauranga Airport Authority – and it’s been very collaborative,” he said.

“Everyone involved in the project got on the same page. It’s gone smoothly from start to finish.”

 

Counting the numbers

Tourism Bay of Plenty fully supported and endorsed the proposal for the expansion of the airport, said chief executive Kristin Dunne.

Passenger throughput figures indicate growth in arrivals by air over the past three years and this – coupled with the data we monitor around visitor spend also indicating phenomenal growth – paints a positive picture,” she said.

“First impressions account for a lot. Our airport, while functional, was dated and congested. Ray Dumble and the team have done a fantastic job in transforming the airport and we are thrilled with the
outcome.”

Dunne said multiple impacts could be expected from the expansion of the airport.

“Aside from the very positive impressions when arriving and departing into an airport of this calibre, the enlarged Air New Zealand lounge provides a superior working and lounging space for regular travelers, thus making it a more appealing prospect when contemplating business opportunities in the Bay.”

She also noted that aesthetic improvements provided multiple spaces in which to welcome and farewell visitors – as well as more spaces in which to do business.

“As one of the fastest growing regions in the country, the airport improvements align with the regional growth story – we’re a destination where you can work and live well.”

Tourism BOP said it was difficult to break down arrivals between tourists and business people.

The best estimate was a breakdown of reasons for visiting, travel method unknown. This showed the following data:

  • Business: 5%
  • Holiday:  30%
  • Visiting friends and family: 55%
  • Other: 10%
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David Porter

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