Driving Piles Next to Jets: Behind the Scenes at Logan International Airport

Building Pile Foundationsat Logan International Airport

At Conte Company, we do construction work in all sorts of places, driving piles and building foundations for boardwalks, schools, houses, shopping malls, industrial plants and some other really cool sites. Once in a while we land a job that’s loaded with logistical obstacles which could easily lead to delays and complications.

We’re always up for a good challenge, and the trick is to make sure our customers are happy and relaxed from beginning to end. We do this with meticulous planning and foresight. Not only for the work that needs to get done, but to anticipate all those little things that can add up to big headaches if preparations and contingencies are not in place. We bend over backward for our clients!

When the Airport Authority is the Client

A traveler running to catch a flight will rarely have time to notice the complicated infrastructure of departure airports. But, if he did take a good look around, he might notice that the tarmacs, runways, hangers, passenger gates and terminals are in a perpetual state of upgrade or repair.

Recently, Conte Company was awarded a construction contract from Logan International Airport, a very busy hub just outside metropolitan Boston, MA. Logan covers 2,384 acres, has six runways and four passenger terminals. It employs an estimated 16,000 people and is the largest airport in the New England with 36 million total passengers passing through the terminals annually.

From a general contractor’s perspective, driving piles for this job might not seem particularly challenging. Conte was hired to simply install helical piles for an airport expansion; specifically to enlarge gated terminals and add a few new gangways, used for boarding passengers.

As it turned out, this job was extremely challenging from a logistical, and a customer service point of view. Why? Precisely because of where the job was located; at an international airport with reams of security and safety regulations! Not to mention the timing and precision requirements of an airport open for business 24/7, with activity both on the ground and in the air. It’s a busy place!

Security and Safety

Before we were even allowed to step foot onto the tarmac, each and every one of our crew had to clear thorough background checks and fingerprinting to satisfy Massport (The Massachusetts Port Authority) and MA State Troopers. Then we all had to go through a rigorous safety training program, anti-terrorism certification and a personal screening process just to be allowed to work on the premises. It took a full month before the certifications and checks were completed, and no work could begin until everyone had been cleared.

“Every time we entered the gates, everything had to be checked. Every toolbox had to be opened, engines, undercarriage, materials and people were scanned. Once inside, we could not leave the airport at will because we had to be searched each and every time. But, we are a company that enjoys a good challenge — and being flexible and adhering to our customer’s requirements is one of the things we do better than everyone else.”

Equipment Transport

When our guys were finally cleared to work, it was time for Conte Company to transport all of the necessary equipment for driving piles: trucks, trailers, excavators and pile materials onto the site. Imagine driving oddly shaped equipment out onto tarmacs while huge commercial jets are taxiing back and forth between gates and runways. Fortunately, as Conte Company specializes in helical pile technology, the transport was relatively seamless. Only small trucks were necessary to move all the installation equipment into place.

An unexpected problem did arise when Conte Company learned we would not be allowed to transport pre-mixed concrete to the site. The airport authority did not want concrete trucks coming in-and-out, or idling near the terminal, for security and logistical reasons. As a result, we had to mix all of the concrete on-site, by hand.

Work Space Limitations

On an airport tarmac, wing lines are drawn on the pavement to show where planes with various wing spans are allowed to taxi. As contractors, we could not place any equipment within these lines because it would block planes from taxiing to-and-from the gates to the runways. The very limited space between these wing lines is the only path allotted for all other types of tarmac traffic and construction equipment.

Again, as we were employing a helical pile system for the foundation of the terminal expansion, we only needed small installation equipment. We employed a 4-ton excavator, a 14-ton ex and a 15 ton rubber tire ex in order to meet certain access limitations for different parts of the project. Each of these have the ability to rotate within its own footprint without hitting or blocking any jets.

“We were working in such a tight space that the arm of our excavator could have swung around and hit the plane behind us! Needless to say, we were EXTREMELY careful… And no, we never hit anything.”

Working in such close quarters could have been catastrophic with larger equipment. If another piling method was used for the building foundations, the Airport Authority would have likely needed to shut down the nearby gates, creating delays for passengers around the world.

Safety of Passengers and Workers

Installing piles for the terminals, gates and gangways of a working airport means that people are everywhere! Imagine the responsibility of drilling very close to where passengers are boarding planes. But, because our team is trained to put the safety of people first, there was never a problem. The passengers barely noticed we were there and the Airport Authority was delighted with the seamless process.

The Soil Conditions

As geotechnical contractors, the soil conditions influencing this job were fascinating to us. Boston is a city basically built on marshland. To complicate things, Logan Airport itself, sits atop a man-made landfill and 15 feet of dense compacted gravel. Below that was anywhere from 60-140 feet of infamous Boston Clay. And below that was a layer very dense till… oh, and by the way, it’s all capped off by 2 feet of solid asphalt!

It was a serious challenge, to say the least. It was determined that we needed to drill our piles somewhere between 70-140 feet deep to assure stability and anchor into the till far below the asphalt. It was up to us to figure out how to do that.

The top 10-15 feet of the gravel was incredibly hard and much too dense for standard helical equipment to get through. Ultimately, we decided to pre-drill to break up the gravel which prevented the piles from buckling or breaking. Once we hit the clay the helical piles could screw in easily and take it from there. We built custom, reinforced digger-plates which we used to pull grout down through the gravel to encase the entire piles in a concrete column.

In the end, it all worked out nicely. We hit a couple obstructions and had to re-drill once or twice, but ultimately, the plan succeeded! At Conte Company, creativity runs deep and everything we customized for this project worked just as we designed it.

In case you’re curious about driving piles, we installed CHANCE® SS225 Helical Piles with 7″ grout shafts, load tested for 140 kips (or 70 tons).

Complicated logistics and damage control

As a contractor that specializes in foundation work, Conte Co always performs our work with precision. Even so, a minimum $10M insurance umbrella was mandatory to win the contract (obviously, it’s very expensive to repair a damaged jet).

With Conte’s helical pile technology, there is no pounding and little chance of debris shooting away and hitting planes, terminal windows, passengers or workers. Alternate methods of foundation work could have made a real mess of the surroundings and an injury hazard for the airport’s customers.

The Logan Airport job was completed in just a few weeks over the course of a full year. It was a great experience for us, and a successful install, because Conte Company knows how to plan for contingencies. And even when we don’t anticipate something strange, we bend over backwards to meet our clients’ needs.

Construction Project Managers: How Do You Lighten the Workload?

construction-project-manager-workload

A construction project manager always needs to be in two places at once.

  1. In the office, planning the project and seeking out potential subs.
  2. And on-site, making sure the project is going well and that subs are doing the job right.

Has this ever happened to you?

“I need to work in the office today— no wait, there’s a problem, I gotta go to the job site.”

This dual responsibility may never go away completely. But by hiring the right employees and working with the best vendors, you can minimize problems on the job site and spend more time in the air conditioning.

Experienced Vendors Know What They’re Doing
(so you don’t have to babysit)

Finding a great subcontractor who can work autonomously, do their job quickly and efficiently is a construction project manager’s dream. Ensuring the result of all that meticulous planning often means being on the job site to field questions, check supplies and solve problems as they arise. Just imagine if all subs could be trusted to handle this kind of stuff on their own.

Being the Busiest Guy on the Job Site

As a construction project manager, it goes without saying that you have a lot on your plate. Maybe you build skyscrapers in busy cities, or help municipalities expand their airports or construct bulkheads at commercial marinas. Maybe you build luxury homes or shore up crumbling infrastructure on old college campuses. Whatever types of projects you work on, the workload and responsibility of a PM is more than just about anyone else involved.

On the construction site, you answer to your boss… and the client. You’re not the one hammering nails or guiding beams into place, but the buck will stop with you when it comes to staying under budget, on schedule and getting the job done right… all of which requires hiring the right subcontractors.

The responsibility of planning how and when the parts and pieces of a project come together takes some serious desk time. Endless phone calls, countless emails, erratic schedules, and constant research are a huge part of the job.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you had more time to do that stuff instead of spending so much time on the job site?

Hiring the Best, Getting the Best

While we can’t speak for everyone else, the experienced crew at Conte Company knows how to troubleshoot and solve problems on their own. We arrive at the job site on-time and ready to roll. We have our team assembled, safety gear on and everyone knows exactly what they’ll be doing that day.

As a small company, every crew we send out has a supervisor who’s worked in the industry for a decade or more. We manage our own supply chain, provide our own insurance, rarely come in over budget, and are always on schedule.

When you hire Conte Company to install your foundation, you can get out of the heat and back to the office to plan whatever comes next. Our long-time customers don’t worry about these things, because they know their job is in good hands. When you hire Conte Company, you don’t need to be in two places at once.

 

Conte Company is a family owned company since 1948. We are New England’s premier deep foundation contractor because we bring the best tools, equipment and crew to every job we take on. 

Learn about our Foundation Installation Services or Request a Consultation

 

Here are a few photos from our latest residential job in Fairfield, CT

The Best Deep Foundation Types: Helical Piles

Helical piles are the best deep foundation types

Helical Piles Create Instant Foundations

Construction project managers constantly worry that finding the best deep foundation types for their project is going to be a hassle, let alone the challenge of having it installed. The answer is CHANCE® helical piles installed by Conte Company.

Instant Support Means Fast Installation

Helical piles result in instant foundations. This means there is no wait time between the building of the foundation and the continued progress on the project. It takes far less time (than traditional methods) to screw a helical pile in place so construction can get started quickly. Combined with concrete, helical piles are one of the best deep foundation types, because they provide the security and benefits of a traditional concrete foundation, without the liabilities of driven piles. This immediate installation is fast, simple, and can be installed with lightweight construction equipment, rather than the bulky machinery usually required. This means instant torque-to-capacity feedback for production control. Helical piles are fast, simple, and effective.

Helical Piles can be Installed Year-Round in any Weather

These screw piles can be installed in any weather because instant support is available while the grout column hardens. This means no delays because of unfortunate weather conditions. Rather than worrying about possible rain delays while pouring concrete, helical piles allow for an easy and fast solution. Your project foundation will be finished much faster and more efficiently with a helical pile foundation.

No Big Machinery, Less Harm to Buildings

There is no vibration during installation because screw piles act like screws going into wood. This does not disrupt the surrounding area and is very safe to install. Soil disturbance during installation is minimized as well because of the smooth, continuous action. This is perfect for delicate or older homes, buildings and other fragile structures because the foundation won’t easily crack the way it could with violent hammering or pile-driving foundation methods. This is clearly a convenient solution that doesn’t damage the surrounding structures. For all these reasons helical piles are considered more advanced than traditional foundation methods making them highly trusted by construction professionals.

Environmentally Friendly Foundations

Helical piles are also environmentally friendly. They require less gas-guzzling machinery and less preparation than pile driven or augured foundations. Also, due to the machinery required to dig and move dirt away from the site, traditional foundations can leave a larger carbon footprint than helicals. Helical piles are frequently made from recycled metals and can be removed and reused again. The best deep foundation types allow you to be mindful of the environment and build something great at the same time; it is a win-win situation for everyone.

A Real Life Helical Pile Case Study

Helical piles can be seen in action at Fairfield University in Fairfield, Connecticut. A helical foundation was used and the project was simplified significantly due to the immediate load capacity, limited accessibility, fragile nature of the building and the reliable nature of the helical pile foundation. Fairfield University is an older school which has some buildings that needed special care during renovation due to fragile stone materials. These buildings are now built on one of the best deep foundation types, that will last for many years to come. Helical piles are much more resistant to possible changes that may occur in surface soil conditions, so there is less of a risk of the foundation weakening over time.

In many cases, helical piles can act as an instant foundation that construction managers and renovators are looking for. Helical piles are the trusted and simple foundation solution for a wide variety of projects. Just look at the fabulous job done at Fairfield University!

Contact us to see how a helical pile foundation would work for your project…

How to Choose a Helical Pile Installer: 10 Questions to Ask

 

Choosing a Reputable Helical Pile Contractor

Hiring a helical pile installer can be complicated when you don’t know what to look for. We’ve put together this list of questions to help project managers better screen their contractors, and determine if they are capable, experienced, reliable and trustworthy potential partners.

Ask your potential contractor:

1. “Are you certified, insured and bonded?”

Making sure vendors are qualified and covered is the best way to safeguard your project from major delays and accidents. Removing liability is important for every contractor, but maintaining a high standard for safety is the best way to keep your project on-schedule and running smoothly. Your contractors’ first priority should be the wellbeing of job-site workers, so make sure they have all the right paperwork, before signing a contract.

2. “Do you guarantee your foundation with a warranty?”

If a helical pile foundation doesn’t measure-up to industry standards, at some point it will need to be repaired or replaced. A reputable, helical pile installer will always stand by their work, so if the warranty that comes with it seems suspect, walk away. If they do offer a guarantee, as do most CHANCE Certified Installers, read the fine print to avoid costly surprises down the road.

3. “Can you provide 3-4 client references we can talk to?”

Few things are as valuable to the vetting process as talking to recent, real-life customers. They’ll be able to give you unique perspective on contractor’s knowledge, expertise, communication and customer service. Obviously, be considerate of their time by having some questions ready, but listening carefully to their answers will often tell you all you need to know about your potential vendor.

4. “Do you have a helical pile project portfolio we can look at?”

A good list of successful projects will help you understand the depth of a contractor’s experience and the scope of their capabilities. Looking through photos of helical pile projects to find examples of jobs similar to yours can confirm that they’re able to do what they claim. You can also get a feel for their level of professionalism, their attention to detail and their ability to address unexpected challenges that inevitably come up.

5. “Do you have experience working on projects similar to ours?”

Each helical pile installation project is different, so it’s important to know that your contractor is capable of solving the issues unique to your project. If your helical pile installer is working with unfamiliar soil conditions or structure types and sizes they haven’t worked with before, chances are they are going to run into problems and that means scheduling delays. Avoid the stress and choose a helical pile installer whose track record includes projects like yours.

6. “Do you provide design-build services?”

Keeping the design and installation aspects of a job under one roof is a great way to streamline planning, execution, overall communication, and keep costs down. When unanticipated challenges come up, as they often do, a design-build firm can move much more quickly to resolve the problem and get the project back on track.

If your contractor is not a design-build firm, you’ll want to know who is designing the project, and go through this checklist with them as well. It’s also nice to know if the two companies have worked together before, and have successful joint-projects under their belts.

7. “What’s your safety track record and what on-site, safety procedures do you practice?”

Nothing grinds a job to-a-halt like accidents and injuries. Avoiding mishaps should be a primary concern for both you and your contractors. Definitely ask the contractor about relevant safety and training certifications. But it’s also essential to ask about the specific, on-site safety procedures they use to protect their crew and yours.

8. “Who manufactures your piles and who supplies them?”

The difference between high-grade and low-grade steel and concrete may not be obvious when the project is first completed, but good-quality materials can add decades to the life of a foundation and it’s superstructure. If a contractor’s bid is lower than the rest, they may be cutting corners by getting cheap, second grade steel from various parts of the world. Material quality is not the place to cut costs, so make sure you know exactly where your helical piles come from.

9. “Who will be our on-site supervisor and what is their experience with helical pile installation?”

Knowing that you have a full-time supervisor on-site and available at all times is mandatory for any major construction project. Beyond managing the day-to-day of a project, an experienced supervisor is critical to making good decisions, if and when things go wrong. During a helical pile installation, a capable manager needs to be in charge of communications, scheduling, materials, equipment malfunctions and everything that keeps the project running safely and smoothly.

10. “What information do you need from us to provide an accurate proposal for this project?”

Your contractor should be willing to have an open conversation about the details of your project and collect the information required to provide an accurate and responsible estimate for your work. If you don’t have specific information on hand, a good contractor will tell you and explain how to get it. A not-so-good contractor will provide a quote anyway and hit you with change orders later on.

How well are you vetting your contractors? Get Conte Company's 2017 Guide to Evaluating Geotechnical Contractors: 22 Mandatory Questions to Ask Before Getting a Bid.