Christchurch International Airport Hero

Building an integrated terminal for Christchurch International Airport Ltd

44 million people walked through the construction site. More than 300,000 commercial aircraft arrived and departed. 11,000 earthquakes shook the ground beneath it. Throw into the mix a few decent snowstorms including three that shut down operations entirely, and you start to get an idea of the challenges faced during the nearly four year construction of the new integrated terminal at Christchurch Airport.

Christchurch International Airport Limited’s (CIAL) Aim:

CIAL wished to provide a facility where both international and domestic passengers could be processed in the same area. It was decided at an early stage that the new terminal would be built on the site of the old one and that construction would take place while the airport remained fully open.

What we did:

The complexities associated with constructing the new terminal on the site of the old one were immense and meant the project had to be completed in two stages.

Construction started in June 2009 with an expected completion date of mid-2012. However, due to the Christchurch earthquakes, CIAL amended this to March 2013. We were able to successfully complete the project by the amended date:

  • Stage 1 included the new check-in hall with 54 check-in counters and self-service kiosks. This hall allows domestic and international passengers to check in at the same area. It incorporates a $15 million baggage handling system spanning 750 metres that separates baggage by flight and automatically x-rays luggage bound for international destinations. Construction of this stage spanned 22 months.
  • Stage two involved the demolition of the former domestic terminal and completion of the new terminal including airside lounges, domestic baggage reclaim area, revitalised international facilities and improvement of aircraft parking areas.

One innovative feature is the ability to use three of the air bridges as ‘swing gates’, i.e. as either domestic or international gates. The three gates enable over 100 access door configurations – all of which were tested and verified before handover. While this is simple in concept, the amount of IT security required to maintain an international border is immense.

Unique challenges:

  • As the project was carried out in a fully operational airport and the new terminal was constructed over the footprint of the existing terminal, construction sequences were pre-planned in order to minimise disruption to normal airport operations. The staged programme allowed new operating systems to be commissioned and tested before the old systems were taken out of service.
  • There was a huge amount of change. When construction started Hawkins was issued with 2,154 drawings. As we progressed a further 3,800 drawings were issued.
  • We coordinated more than 50 subcontracting companies, with an average of 200 personnel on site each day (350 at the peak of construction).
  • Working air-side around an international border posed challenges. Working close to aircraft, whose engines don’t take kindly to bits of plastic or debris getting sucked through them meant there was no margin for error.
  • When the earthquake struck on 22 February 2011 the project was at a critical stage – with half an old terminal and half a new one. The airport was operational again within 90 minutes, which proved vital in getting emergency workers to Christchurch.
  • During demolition we found approximately $1 million worth of asbestos, which wasn’t initially detected because it was sandwiched between concrete floor slabs and overlaid topping slabs. We had to move it intact and install air control monitors. This resulted in an approximately three month delay.
  • The number of passengers moving in and out of the airport posed a challenge. We didn’t want them to experience the effects of a large project going on around them. At one stage we built a tunnel (effectively lined containers on stilts) through the construction site so passengers couldn’t see or hear the work.

The outcome:

The integrated terminal will service twice the current passenger numbers. It’s a striking symbol of the region and the first major infrastructure facility completed in Christchurch following the earthquakes. It’s a project of which all Kiwis can be proud.