AUSTRALIA: The country’s second biggest inland city will soon have a public airport to call its own, and Volvo CE has a crucial role to play in its construction
by Andrew McMillen
Building a public airport from a bare worksite – known as a ‘greenfield’ – is a colossal undertaking by any standard, yet the endeavor is even more remarkable when its owners are working to a tight, self-imposed deadline.
“From the turning of the first sod to the first aircraft landing, it will be 18 months,” says Denis Wagner, managing director of Toowoomba-based company Wagners, with certainty in his voice.
Brisbane West Wellcamp Airport, located 17km west of Toowoomba in the east Australian state of Queensland, will be the first greenfield public airport to be built in the country since Tullamarine in Melbourne, more than 45 years ago. “Construction equipment is very important to this project,” says Wagner. “We’re building a 2.87km runway, so it’s absolutely critical that we have reliable equipment from which we can get very high utilization.”
An integral piece of that puzzle is Volvo CE, which Wagners has come to rely on throughout the intensive construction process. “We run a lot of Volvo equipment in that mid-size range, up to 50 tonnes,” says the 51-year-old managing director. “We get a good run out of their reliability, operator comfort and fuel efficiency. They’re all important to our operation. We’re running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in two 12-hour shifts.
“All of the construction materials for the project are coming from the site; we’re crushing the gravel and the aggregate for concrete and asphalt,” Wagner continues.
“If we were to bring this material in from off-site, we’d need 350,000 truckloads in and out. Commercially, it would certainly be less attractive if we didn’t have that material on-site.”
Prior to its redevelopment as a ‘Code E’ airfield capable of accommodating aircraft up to 747, or jumbo-jet size, the 2,000 hectare property at Wellcamp was used as black soil cattle-grazing country. In late May, from a high vantage point, the property’s agricultural roots are still visible in the distance: under a clear blue sky, dozens of cattle can be seen chomping away happily behind the half-built airport terminal.
In the foreground, however, is a non-stop hive of human activity and industry. Nearby, two pits from which rocks are blasted, excavated and carted away lies the imposing, 45m-wide runway, roughly one-quarter of which has been sealed awaiting its final bitumen covering to be laid. In the center of the property is a concrete plant, which will produce an estimated 26,000m3 of material to be used on-site.
“All the concrete on the aircraft pavement will be done using a proprietary Wagners product called Earth Friendly Concrete, or EFC,” says Wagner. “It’s concrete with no cement in it. This is the first airport in the world to be built using EFC; on this project alone, our carbon emissions will be reduced by 6,600 tonnes simply through using EFC.”
Volvo CE plays a part in this global innovation: “We have a Volvo L90F wheel loader that batches all the EFC and puts it into the concrete batching plant, where it’s discharged,” explains Wagner. Elsewhere on-site, equipment including 46-tonne Volvo excavators, wheel loaders from L90s up to L220s, and A40F articulated haulers are used on a daily basis.
Privately funded by Wagners at a cost in excess of AUD$100 million (US$94m; €69m), Brisbane West Wellcamp will be Australia’s first public airport constructed without government assistance. The company was founded in 1989 by the four Wagner brothers and their father, Henry, in Toowoomba, whose population of 165,000 makes it Australia’s second-most populous inland city. Situated 130km west of the Queensland state capital, Brisbane, the Toowoomba-based company’s core business today is in construction materials and mining services. Wagners employs 850 people globally, and has completed work in Russia, the Middle East and the Pacific Islands.
“Brisbane West Wellcamp will service the passenger market of Toowoomba and the Darling Downs,” says Wagner. “There are 334,000 people living in the airport’s catchment area. We expect to get to 500,000 passengers a year fairly quickly. There are only 13 houses within a 3km radius of the runway, so the impact on local community is fairly minimal.”
Adjoining the completed airport will be Wellcamp Business Park, which will accommodate commercial office space, retail, hotels and manufacturing.
The only things working harder than the 150 Wagners staff on-site are the machines themselves. Having recently passed the one-year mark and with the company’s self-imposed 18-month deadline from start to finish in mind, it will not be long before Brisbane West Wellcamp Airport is cleared for take-off. Six million from an estimated 10 million tonnes of dirt and rock had been moved by the end of May, and each productive day brings Wagners closer to its goal of the terminal opening for business in the fourth quarter of 2014.