UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

Upgrades at UND Flight Ops will improve safety for decades

Aviation faculty and administrators say they are grateful for funding that will complete work on Bravo apron, in a project being worked on by a Civil Engineering student

Civil Engineering student Patrick Casserly is working as an intern on a project to rebuild large portions of Bravo apron at UND Flight Operations. Photo by Adam Kurtz/UND Today.

Patrick Casserly will enter his senior year at UND in the fall, where he will continue his studies at the College of Engineering & Mines, as a Civil Engineering student. Until then, he’s working on a project at Grand Forks International Airport (GFK) that, when completed, will see long-needed infrastructure upgrades brought to UND Flight Operations.

Since mid-May, Casserly has been working as an intern for Mead & Hunt, a national consulting group that provides airports and other entities with a variety of engineering and architecture services. His job: to help oversee the reconstruction of large portions of Bravo ramp, used by UND student-pilots to taxi to and from the runway. The project is set to be completed later this summer.

For Casserly, a U.S. Air Force veteran, it’s a chance to see the design and construction of necessary infrastructure from another perspective – that of an engineer.

“I think it’s a really great opportunity to get to capitalize on my experience with airfield operations,” he said.

Professor of Aviation Kim Kenville was visiting with Jon Scraper, department manager of aviation services with Mead & Hunt, the project manager who told her about the educational opportunities that exist in such a project. Kenville brought that idea to Daba Gedafa, chair of the Civil Engineering Department, which led to Casserly taking the job.

“Jon told me he would really like to have a UND intern on this project, so that learning can ensue,” she said. “This opportunity allows the next generation to see how a project like this happens.”

Replacing a decades-old apron with one to last decades

The project, while not as eye-catching as a brand-new building, is crucial to ensuring UND’s flight leadership and is a matter of safety for both students and aircraft. It is being funded by a $5 million appropriation by the Legislature.

University aviation students use two aprons, Bravo and Charlie, both of which were constructed in the 1970s and 1980s. Bravo ramp is located on the north side of the flight operations buildings, with Charlie on the south. The latter apron underwent a significant renovation in 2016, at the cost of $6 million. In 2015, Kenville, with the help of members of Grand Forks’ local delegation to the Legislature, successfully led an effort to secure the funding for Charlie apron.

Portions of Bravo apron have degraded significantly and have created safety risks for student pilots and their aircraft. Photo by Adam Kurtz/UND Today.

But that left Bravo, which was in rough shape. Dick Schultz, director of flight operations, said that after observing its crumbling nature, GFK officials shut down the ramp a few years ago. A $15,000 repair job was only a temporary fix. One of the main safety concerns is what is referred to as “FOD,” or “foreign object debris.” As the decades-old concrete crumbles, it leaves chunks and shards on the apron. Thrust generated by taxiing aircraft can send that debris flying into another aircraft – or a student walking on the apron. Students pick up those pieces and deposit them into specially marked cans set up around the area, but more and more shards turn up.

“We’ve been just surviving on patchwork until now, so this puts us in a much better position,” Schultz said.

Kenville, in expressing her thanks for the funding, said it takes more than a village to build an apron; it takes the state.

“It is with great gratitude that we see this ramp reconstruction enter its final phase,” she said. “It also has the added benefit of a civil engineering student interning on the project. It just makes it a bit more special!”

Kenville acknowledged the difficulty in finding funding for a new apron – not exactly an eye-catching project. Schultz agreed and likened the aprons near UND Flight Ops to laboratory spaces elsewhere on campus, though of a different nature.

“It’s the least fancy lab you could build,” said Schultz. “It’s a piece of concrete!”

Aviation students and flight instructors have to be on the lookout for “FOD” – foreign object debris, as they walk to and from their aircraft. The FOD can provides a receptacle for small pieces of concrete and other debris. Photo by Adam Kurtz/UND Today.

Said Kenville: “Pavement is certainly not glamorous, and no one wants their name on it, so we worked really hard to deliver a solid message to the North Dakota Legislature over a six-year period. Our delegation could see the benefits of the project, and they and their colleagues found money and appropriated it to the University.”

In 2015 the project was projected to cost $16 million. Work on Charlie ramp came in at $6 million, but the $5 million bid for Bravo ramp came in much lower than expected, offering considerable savings for the project.

Until he returns to UND in the fall, Casserly is spending his time learning about the concepts surrounding topsoil and drain tile (which was never installed under the original apron and hastened its degradation) under the tutelage of Scraper, with Mead & Hunt.

“This is how you get to be a really good designer, by spending time watching things get built,” he said of Casserly’s internship.