Brisbane Airport’s New Parallel Runway project director is on a high as it enters its next stage

By the time the first jet taxis down the new parallel runway at Brisbane Airport in 2020, project director Paul Coughlan will have spent 16 years in its grip.

For a man in charge of a massive build of national infrastructure – and one not without controversy – Coughlan exudes a friendly calm, albeit a fierce pride in being part of what he calls “a once in a generation” project.

“The opportunities to be part of something this big and important to the life of the state and the nation don’t come around that often,’ he says.  “Probably only once every 20 years.”

The stats of the project are eye –watering: a regional economic benefit of around $5billion per year by 2035, 2700 jobs created at peak construction and upon completion and 7800 jobs for the Brisbane/Moreton region by 2035.

The runway, work on which has cost $500 million so far, is two kilometres west of the main existing one. It will allow the same level of capacity as Hong Kong and Singapore airports and will give Brisbane the best runway system in Australia with flights to grow from 227,000 in 2014/15 to 393,000 by 2035. Tourism facilitated by the airport has been put at $3.1 billion in the 2013 financial year and tipped to be $7.6 billion by 2033-34.

It’s a task that would overwhelm lesser men than the “methodical” Coughlan. “I bite off each chunk of the job as it comes and chew like mad,” he says.

Brisbane Airport Corporation picked Paul nine years ago to head a team of project managers, conservation and civil engineers, works inspectors, environmental scientists, document controllers, stakeholder and approval managers for the new runway, which is entirely funded with $1.35 billion of private investment.

Formerly an engineer with the former Harbours and Marines Department, specialising in dredging, ports and beach management and a holder of a private pilot’s licence, he combined his two great interests for this job. He was senior director of coasts and waterways at the Environmental Protection Agency and is proud of the environmental ticks negotiated through three levels of government red tape in the clearing of this 360ha greenfield site and minimising community impact.

He has high praise for the foresight of the State and Federal governments of the 70s in buying up the land, allowing the airport to grow without impacting on city residents to anything like the extent of other cities in Australia.

“A plane taking off in Brisbane travels 6.5km before it is flying over a house, whereas in Sydney, it is only about 600m,” he says.

Another “brilliant” environmental recycling move, according to Coughlan, is putting the casuarinas, mangroves and topsoil cleared from the site for the laying of the drainage and roads, into  big mounds to break down into 300,000 cubic metres of mulch, and used for revegetation.

Phase two of the NPR, now just weeks away, is dredging 13 million cubic metres of sand from Moreton Bay and building up its platform much like the erection of a shoreline sandcastle. The Belgian company Jan De Nul dredge Charles Darwin will do this for 42 weeks 24/7, picking up 30,000 cubic metres of sand twice a day.

Swamp dozers will level it on the 3.6km x 60m site to a height of eight metres. And then mother nature and straw drains will see it dry and pack down over about three and a half years until 2017, when the final construction of pavements and airfields will start.

“It’s a game changing project for Brisbane,”’ Coughlan says.