Senior Project Manager Mike Weeks has spent the last 4 years managing the runway extension at Southampton International Airport. We asked him to share his experience of this complex construction project.
Tell us a bit about yourself
Hi, I’m Mike Weeks, Senior Project Manager at Iconic Project Management. I manage our project work at Southampton International Airport, Poke House, and Greystar. I also get involved with minor projects like Funky Flowers, a local shop fit-out, as and when they crop up.
My background and education is in Civil & Structural Engineering and also Finance and Investment. However, I’ve been involved in various guises of project management for about 18 years now, working with clients across many different sectors (aviation, petrol retail, hotels, rail, retail).
Tell us about the runway extension
The runway extension at Southampton Airport is a 164m Starter Extension, taking the runway length from 1,723m to 1,887m. Whilst this doesn’t sound a particularly significant change, the additional take off distance allows aircraft like the Airbus A320 take off from the airport fully laden with passengers and fuel.
These aircraft currently operate from Southampton, but with a reduced payload (i.e. empty seats, baggage restrictions and reduced fuel, which in turn reduces the extent of available destinations). The increased runway length makes the airport commercially viable for low-cost operators, with the airport aspiring to be the airport of choice for people living to the South and West of London.
Construction work on the project was completed throughout Spring and Summer 2023. All the works were completed at night, without any impact to daily operations at the airport. Construction work was completed by VolkerFitzpatrick, who are a key framework contractor for the AGS Airports group, the ultimate client in this project.
What were the biggest challenges on the project?
Whilst we encountered a handful of minor challenges throughout the construction phase, without doubt the biggest challenges came during the pre-construction phase.
As you can image, a runway extension is rightly a sensitive subject for many reasons, particularly in regard to environmental impact and concerns about aircraft noise around the airfield. As a result, we completed an extensive consultation phase, and worked through a comprehensive and very detailed planning process, which included an appeal and judicial review. On top of that, the pre-construction phase was heavily impacted by the pandemic, which had a direct impact on both aviation and the planning process.
I was involved in the project for three and a half years before we put a spade in the ground. However, the airport had been working on the development for several years prior to that.
Incidentally, did I mention that we had to relocate a pressured foul rising main prior to starting work, and immediately to the North of the construction zone are both a high-pressure arterial gas pipeline and a busy rail yard!
What were the greatest successes on the project?
I’d like to highlight a few successes if I may… Firstly, the project was handed over on time, within budget and, most importantly, with no safety incidents or accidents. Together with the main contractor we encouraged hazard observation and near miss reporting during the works, with the site team identifying potential hazards or general improvements so they could be resolved and addressed proactively.
As I mentioned, all the construction work was completed at night, and we successfully managed just under 100 early morning hand backs to the airport’s operational team. Each hand back involved a detailed inspection and sign off to ensure the runway could open safely and in time for the first departure each day.
And finally, with this project, we were able to engage and build relationships with the local community and neighbours of the airport. The site team volunteered at Youth Options Outdoor Learning Centre and at Norwood Primary School, both of which are in Eastleigh, the town closest to the airport. We have another session planned at Norwood Primary School in the Autumn, and I know the team are looking forward to meeting the new Year 6 children.
We also ran a Community Engagement App throughout the project that allowed us to interact directly with local residents. We shared pictures, site updates and progress reports. Residents were able to communicate openly with the site management team and raise questions and complaints first hand. This allowed us to react immediately to any issues and make changes on site without the need for escalation.
What are you most proud of on the project?
Over the course of the pre-construction and construction phase, we were able to build great personal and professional relationships across the team. I was really proud of the part I played in this, and the well-established, collaborative relationships undoubtedly benefitted all stages of the project and the overall outcome for the airport.
What next for yourself and the airport?
For me, I roll on to the next set of projects, both at the airport and with other clients. One of my favourite parts of the job is the variety of work, both day-to-day and longer term… last month I was watching asphalt being laid on a runway, next month I’ll be helping Poke House prepare their new restaurant in Mayfair for opening.
For the Airport, the pipeline of projects never ends. We’re looking forward to continuing our relationship with Southampton as the airport grows and develops in the years to come.
Mike has over 15 years experience in the construction industry, delivering both single site projects and multi-site programmes of work. He has worked in the retail, aviation, commercial and real estate sectors, in both client and consultant organisations.
Mike particularly loves working closely with customers and stakeholders to ensure their brief has been fully understood. They are delighted when their vision is delivered, exactly as they imagined it, on time and on budget.