For airport operators, maintaining a safe runway means consistent spending on reactive repair. Jerry Tonge, managing director of ASI Solutions, explains how his company is promoting an asphalt preservation system allowing operators to drive down costs while ensuring consistently high safety standards.
Two features now define the modern airport: one the control tower, where trained personnel can coordinate departures and arrivals; and a working runway. Any pilot, whether they are in a Cessna or a Boeing 747 can, in theory, land on any surface that is consistently flat for several miles. Yet, it is the organisation of those inbound and outbound aircraft on a solid asphalt runway that separates Heathrow from a jungle airstrip in the Amazon.
It is in the maintenance of the runway that an airport blossoms or withers, a fact that Jerry Tonge, managing director of asphalt maintenance provider ASI Solutions, knows all too well. All the more surprising, then, that in his experience, airport operators have not adopted a cannier approach to the maintenance of their tarmac surfaces.
"Typically, the operator will lay down the new surface and fill in the holes or cracks as and when they emerge. Overall, this means that they're letting the entire surface deteriorate over time," says Tonge.
This is simply because, unlike with your typical road, it can prove ruinously expensive to shut down a runway for systematic maintenance. That leaves the logistically awkward option of piecemeal repair.
"The biggest challenge in asphalt repair work at airports is the narrowness of windows available for maintenance work," explains Tonge. "The last plane usually leaves at 11pm, with the first one due to land just after 6am. Combined with the understandably strict safety standards you expect at an airport, it becomes harder to provide an affordable repair solution."
Until now, that is. Founded in 1997, ASI Solutions has a history of improvising around the obstacles typically associated with repairing asphalt surfaces and was the first in its field to introduce infrared road-repair systems.
Continuing its tradition of heavy investment in research and development, the company is now offering a long-term, preventative solution for runway repairs with its Rhinophalt treatment. When applied, the solution penetrates the bitumen to introduce an impermeable layer that arrests the oxidisation of the runway surface. By doing this, its rate of deterioration is slowed down significantly, extending the surface life for many more years. What's more, it only takes a couple of hours to apply, meaning operators can redirect resources and funds otherwise spent on repairing cracks or holes on an ad-hoc basis. Rhinophalt also seals the top surface, leading to a dramatic reduction in FOD risk.
"The key challenge for us is convincing operators and partners in the asphalt maintenance sector to break that long-standing habit of fixing problems as and when they occur, and convincing them that preventative maintenance is the sensible way to go," says Tonge. "In that respect, we're experiencing some success. We are seeing increased interest and awareness of the need for such a solution across the highway and airport industries."
To that end, ASI Solutions is looking to enhance the preservation process even further. "One of the things we've been looking at is finding a way of taking our life-extending technology in Rhinophalt and embedding it in the bitumen at the point of construction," says Tonge. "At the moment, we're in the early stage of a major project in the Middle East and are hopeful that within the next 12-18 months, we will have a very interesting opportunity available for our wider customer base."
That base continues to grow with every passing year. "We're still a relatively small company, but it's a big world out there, and there are a vast number of potential opportunities," says Tonge. "We've got a very interesting solution that's applicable in all climates, and we're focused on expanding into South-East Asia, China and Latin America. In all of these places, a huge number of airports require the treatment that Rhinophalt can provide, especially in large countries where highway structures are incomplete or distances so great that plane travel is the dominant mode of transport."
Interest is particularly strong in South-East Asia, where a number of countries are looking to modernise and expand their existing infrastructure. "In fact, we're over in Malaysia next week where we have a meeting with the national airport authority," says Tonge. "We've also already done first-generation trials at Hong Kong Airport, Singapore Changi and at Beijing International."
Tonge asserts that every one of these operators understands an essential truth about runway management: the sooner you take action to preserve the surface that you have, the fewer financial headaches you will accrue in the long run.
"A preventative solution like Rhinophalt enables the operator to preserve long stretches of asphalt in a short period of time," he says. "In the end, operators do not want to spend years repairing their runways one part at a time; they want a cost-effective preventative solution for their maintenance needs. In the end, Rhinophalt is more efficient, more effective and safer than reactive repair."