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Q&A with Patrick Williams - Looking at the ‘Big Picture’ of Aviation and the Southwest
Publication Date
July 21st 2020, 9:00 am
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Patrick Williams serves as a senior project manager in Urban’s Texas office, serving clients throughout the Southwest. His unique experience includes airport planning; airfield pavement and drainage design; adherence to fast-tracked schedules; permitting coordination between local, state and federal agencies; security fence and gate hardening; erosion and sediment control; and construction management and inspection. We talked to Patrick to get a ‘big picture’ look at aviation in the Southwest, and what role civil engineering plays in the industry:

 

Q: What role does civil engineering play in aviation?

 

A: Civil engineering assists in the design and construction management for new development at airports, as well as the maintenance of existing infrastructure. We as civil engineers analyze existing conditions to minimize utility conflicts by review of record drawings and use Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE) to locate underground utilities during the design phase. We investigate soil and pavement conditions to ensure that the proper asphalt or concrete sections are installed for the associated application by examination of borings, cores, and/or using technology such as Nondestructive Testing (NDT). Civil engineers propose the right grading and drainage solutions to prevent flooding and ponding that can end up causing damage to airfields, which in turn cause delays to flights. We also serve as an extension of the airport staff in areas such as safety and phasing plans to develop a technique during construction that minimizes impacts to the day to day operations.

 

Q: How does aviation in the Southwest compare to other regions of the country?

 

A: Aviation in the Southwest is on a larger scale of positive financial impact than in many other regions. Airports in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas serve as an economic engine for their corresponding states due to their locations, connectivity, and sheer volume. For example, Texas has roughly 300 facilities comprised of commercial service airports, general aviation airports/heliports, and reliever airports, which support the capacity of the commercial airports most people use to fly. These account for approximately 780,000 jobs, $30 billion in payroll, and $95 billion in economic output for the Lone Star State. Many were built around the timeframe of World War II and before, so the need for infrastructure updates and improvements are in high demand.

 

Q: What trends do you see happening in the Southwest when it comes to aviation?

 

A: Particularly in the Southwest, airports that have the ability to do so are looking at land acquisition or repurposing of existing property to generate additional revenue. Such development is examined as retail space, hotels, or most commonly, the potential to extend or add infrastructure. An airport might have an ultimate goal of accommodating larger or more frequent aircraft, and a property may have the potential to extend or add new runways and taxiways. There’s currently a significant increase in new airport hangar and corresponding ramp construction for new tenants, and it is important to develop sites with a plan to efficiently and safely connect the aircrafts to their destination points on the airfield.

 

Q: What are regional airports doing to compete with the larger hubs in the Southwest?

 

A: The Southwest continues to thrive and increase in population with younger and diverse residents. For some time, Texas has been growing by an average rate of 1,000 people per day and rising, resulting in the outward expansion of major metropolitan areas. Considering the rising population density of Austin and San Antonio as an example, smaller regional airports that reside in between are being considered for commercial airline service, and are making preparations to accommodate projections of such increased city limits. This is happening in many areas across the region.

 

Q: What kind of challenges do civil engineers face when they begin a new aviation project?

 

A: Whether it is a new aviation client or a new project for an existing one, the most immediate challenge is the engagement of airport stakeholders. Urban excels at this management and the constant coordination with those who have valuable input. I always recommend that in addition to meeting with the direct contacts representing the airport, one should proactively engage the airlines who could be impacted; airport security and fire rescue teams; and airport operations staff, and invite them to the initial kick-off meetings. These entities have important contributions that should be taken into account in the initial stages of the design, instead of waiting for a later submission to attain their comments.

 

Q: What are some recent aviation projects you are really proud of, and explain your accomplishments?

 

A: I have been fortunate to work on many exciting and diverse aviation projects throughout the country. My day-to-day oversight of pavement evaluation at Trenton-Mercer Airport, for example, led to an analysis that recommended the use of less construction material for their airfield; resulting in over $2 million worth of cost savings to the client. This was brought-on by cutting edge Non-Destructive Testing (NDT) by use of falling weight deflectometer testing and evaluation of the structural properties and bearing capacity of the runway. My engineering and management contributions also aided in the success of a runway extension project at Philadelphia International Airport, which involved multiple phases and intricate sequencing to include directional drilling under both an active runway and various taxiways to install proposed utilities. These projects and more demanded extensive airport engineering design and construction management, serving the clients from project planning all the way through to project closeout.