Bethel Airport Main Runway Reconstruction

October 9, 2020

A Regional Hub
The Bethel Airport (BET) was opened in 1942, and is located 86 miles upstream from the mouth of the Kuskokwim River. The airport serves as the regional transportation and supply center for more than 6,000 people and surrounding communities in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

Alaska Airlines is the main airline servicing the region, with daily cargo and passenger flights to and from Anchorage. They recently upgraded their fleet to the Boeing 737-800, a larger aircraft that increases the pavement loading by 20,000 pounds, to serve as the primary passenger jet for Bethel operations.

Ensuring Safe and Efficient Service
To support the changing fleet mix, the main runway 1L-19R and taxiways A, C and portions of D are being reconstructed. This will ensure compliance with current Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) standards and provide reliable service for the next 20 years and beyond.

R&M is working with the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (DOT&PF) to design these airside improvements. This includes airport engineering, topographic survey, geotechnical exploration and engineering, environmental documentation, and agency and stakeholder coordination. Sampling and testing for Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) was added to the contract, conducted concurrently with geotechnical explorations, which consisted of drilling and Falling Weight Deflectometer (FWD) testing.

Intensive Coordination Efforts
Geotechnical field work was completed in August 2020, which was the result of a major coordination effort that started the previous spring. During those six months, R&M managed and coordinated:

  • Solicitation and evaluation of bids for drilling services and FWD testing, as well as contract award to Denali Drilling (drilling) and Abatech (FWD testing).
  • Obtaining concurrence from the FAA to perform work inside the Air Operations Area (AOA).
  • Hiring badged escorts for work within the AOA.
  • Securing and operating lighted closure markers (lighted Xs).
  • Approval of a Sampling and Analysis Plan with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) for PFAS sampling.
  • Logistics with Denali Drilling and Abatech for field work. Abatech had to ship their equipment from California, which took almost six weeks.
  • In addition, as the airport needs to remain operational, R&M worked extensively with maintenance and operations (M&O) to ensure flights weren’t disrupted by the field work. This involved coordinating access to staging areas and utility locates, issuance of Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) and nighttime runway closures so the field work could be performed safely. R&M also coordinated with Medevac operators for maximum notification during unscheduled emergency flights.

    Overcoming Challenges
    While this amount of coordination is challenging under normal circumstances, ensuring everything went smoothly during the COVID-19 pandemic added an extra layer of challenge. Specific challenges included: greatly reduced air service (one carrier declared bankruptcy and ceased operations), testing and quarantining requirements, and managing work remotely. Despite this, R&M’s crews completed the field work professionally and without major delays.

    The ramifications of PFAS contamination is another challenge. Found in firefighting foam, PFAS is known to cause adverse health outcomes in humans. R&M sampled and tested the soil retrieved during the geotechnical investigation to determine the levels of PFAS contamination at Bethel Airport. The results are still outstanding, but will likely impact the design and construction of this project.

    Next Steps
    R&M’s team is currently evaluating the data from the geotechnical exploration to determine the most appropriate reconstruction scheme(s). The ability to ensure continued aircraft service to Bethel during reconstruction will be a major consideration during the evaluation process. Project certification is scheduled for February 2021, with contractor bidding to follow in May 2021. Construction is scheduled to be completed by late 2022.