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Fresh out of reconstruction with cracks and dents: Uralsk landing strip 21 марта 2015, 01:22

Landing strip in Uralsk Airport has just passed the first stage of reconstruction. But after a few months it already has cracks and dents. Who is to blame? Is there anyone to blame at all?
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©Tengrinews ©Tengrinews

A couple of weeks ago the Uralsk Airport refused to accept an Air Astana aircraft that was to arrive on schedule from Almaty at 15:40 on February 11. The airline received a message from the airport saying that it would not be accepting an aircraft weighing more than 46 tons. As a result, 96 passengers were stuck in the Almaty airport departure lounge.

Later, the second message informed that the airport was ready to allow the plane to land in Uralsk without imposing restrictions on its weight, but that It was an exceptional permission granted only for February 11. The plane finally took off from Almaty at 17:14.

This is not the first time that Uralsk Airport denied landing to Air Astana aircraft. The air harbor announced in late November last year that it had problems with its landing strip. According to the airport, the cement concrete pavement of the landing strip could not be treated with urea-based chemicals. This was allegedly the reason why aircraft of Air Astana and SCAT could not fly to Uralsk for some time. Air Astana resumed operations on January 12, 2015. SCAT is still not making any flights to Uralsk.

Airport in Uralsk. Photo courtesy of vesti.kz

Management of Uralsk airport explained that they were basing their decision on recommendation of KazAeroProject, an organization carrying out a full range of design, survey and research works in construction and reconstruction for civil aviation, and also doing industrial, transportation, civil and housing construction. The airport announced that it would not be to operate during autumn-winter period, because the company in its recommendations specifically instructed to refrain from use urea-based chemicals.

KazAeroProject on its part swiftly released a statement claiming the airport incorrectly understood their recommendations. President of the company Asylkhan Dospanbetov gathered a press conference on November 28, where he said that KazAeroProject, as project designer, simply warned the airport about the consequences of application of deicing fluid. The company explained that it was against the use of urea-based deicing chemicals because of their devastating effects on the coating. However, Dospanbetov stressed: “There are plenty of alternatives.” One of them is using a set of airport equipment.

He pointed out that the same runway coating used in Uralsk could be found in the airports of Talgykorgan, Aktobe, Shymkent and Semey that were not complaining about problems with cleaning their landing strips, he said. “As such, there is no problem with the cleaning. I think that the airport itself just did not understand it. It's just a misunderstanding," Dospanbetov said.

Photo courtesy of dic.academic.ru

The runway in question is a new one, fresh out of the first phase of reconstruction, for which the state gave 6 billion tenge ($32.4 million). The airport closed on 1 September and resumed its operations after the reconstruction in early November. Before that, Uralsk Airport landing strip was in an advanced state of disrepair. Back in 2012, large-capacity airliners refused to take off and land in Uralsk for safety reasons.

Initial reviews of the runway after the reconstruction were quite positive. Hopes were high that the second stage of reconstruction would bring the landing strip to a whole new level of quality, with expanded sidebands and a longer runway. Kazdorstroy is responsible for the construction.

Runway construction works. ©Tengrinews

"This strip is one of the best in Kazakhstan. Next year, the work will be resumed and the runway will be lengthened from 2400 meters to 2800 meters. This will allow landing of aircraft of all types," said the Akim (Mayor) of West Kazakhstan Oblast Nurlan Nogayev after the re-opening, BNews reported.

Runway construction works. ©Tengrinews

But the picture did not remain bright for a long time. On November 27, 2014, CEO of the airport Khairetdin Raskaliyev said that the landing strip was incorrectly designed. He said that the airport requested an asphalt concrete runway, but it was eventually made of cement. Raskaliyev said letters had been written to the Minister for Investment and Development Asset Issekeshev and the Akimat of the Oblast that the airport could not ensure stable operation.

“We cannot use fluids to clean the runway in case of precipitation and formation of ice, so long delays and cancellations of flights to and from the airport of Uralsk are inevitable. Such failures in our work will continue until spring," said Raskaliyev, blaming the officials of the Civil Aviation Committee.

Allegedly, before the reconstruction began the Oblast Akimat said that using cement was wrong and Uralsk airport needed an asphalt coating. Therefore, Raskaliyev declared that in cases of problems with the landing strip, the airport was not responsible for ensuring regularity and safety of flights.

However, officials from the Civil Aviation Committee said that the runway was in order and recommended the airpot to use alternative methods of ice cleaning. On November 27, they announced that the project of reconstruction of the landing strip had passed an independent state examination, which confirmed the feasibility of using cement concrete both technically and economically.

Deputy Chairman of the Committee Serik Mukhtybayev said that the service life of cement coating was 20-25 years, whereas asphalt could serve for only 7-8 years. In addition, he said that cement was more stable against extreme temperatures, both high and low. Moreover, the latter is more expensive (8.2 billion against 7.9 billion).

Mukhtybayev said that there were three types of equipment to clean the runway: "Use of snow clearing, thermal and wind machines, and in extreme cases - use of chemicals. I would like to stress that dispatching specialized equipment to clean the surface of the runway is a responsibility of the airport. The corresponding requirement is set forth by the government decree approving the rules of airfield safety in civil aviation," he said. 

©David Moir/Reuters 

Mukhtybayev added that there were various kinds of chemical agents that did not harm a cement coating that is less then two years old. There are various types of reagents based on something other than carbomide, such as acetate, which is safe for use on fresh cement.

But the Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the International Airport of Uralsk Nurlan Zhumasultanov, who is also chairman of Bek Air company, stood his ground and claimed that the landing strip could not be used in winter time because it cased cracks and dents to appear in its coating. In this context, there were some rumors that the airport was lobbying the interests of Bek Air airlines supported by the fact that Bek Air owned the airport of Uralsk since 2008.

On 4 February it became known that the landing strip of Uralsk Airport did have cracks and dents. The information came from the Chief Financial Officer of the Airport Azamat Turashev. Two airlines were performing flights to Uralsk at that point - Air Astana and Bek Air. The harbor was hosting four flights a day at most.

Below are the photographs made by the staff of the airport: some of the defects are patched, but many remain on the strip. According to Turashev, it was possible to work in such conditions, but with the coming of spring, the situation could worsen.

"We wrote a letter to the Ministry of Investment and Development, describing the problem, attaching all the photos taken by the commission that we formed,” Turashev said. “The fact is the concrete laying works were performed poorly, it is collapsing."

Head of the Civil Aviation Committee of Kazakhstan Beken Seidakhmetov commented on the statement on February 6. He said that the runway would be brought to the required condition soon by the contractor and assured that the cracks on the coating would not affect the safety of flights.

"Today, a special commission from among the representatives of the Transport Prosecutor’s Office, the contractor Kazdorstroy and Oblast Akimat are in the Uralsk Airport. After inspecting the runway, they will release a conclusion on its condition. Kazdorstroy will eliminate all the defects before the end of tomorrow. I am confident that these dents shown on the pictures do not in any way affect the safety of flights," Seidakhmetov said.

Photo courtesy of Uralsk Airport

He also pointed out a curious fact: the runway is owned by the state, while the adjacent territory - the taxiway and apron – by airport’s owner. According to Seidakhmetov, the owner of the air harbor was not willing to repair the latter, which put a hold on the overall reconstruction of the landing strip. He pointed out that in case the taxiway and apron were not reconstructed, large aircraft would not be able to drive to the apron. He called this an indication that the interests of Bek Air airlines were being lobbied, since according to Seidakhmetov the unresolved question leave Bek Air the only eligible air carrier capable of operating in Uralsk Airport.

"The overall area of the reconstructed runway is 108,000 square meters, and these pits, as they call them, are exit sites of dripped-off clay. There are 63 small spots. (...) We found them in November, they are marked out in the certificate. The biggest of them is 15 centimeters; the other are 5-6 centimeters. The contractor will fix them. On the picture it seems that these spots are big, but it is not so in reality,” Seidakhmetov said. The official also pointed out that dripped off clay points are a common occurrence on roads.

Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the International Airport of Uralsk Nurlan Zhumasultanov denied rumors that the scandal allegedly arising from the airports refusal to apply runway chemicals was created for the purpose of lobbying the interests of Bek Air. Zhumasultanov is also the chairman of the board of Bek Air.

Photo courtesy of vse.kz

"By no means is this lobbying (...). If Uralsk Airport is closed, it will cease operations not only for SCAT and Air Astana, but also for Bek Air. No one will fly. Now we need to decide on the issue of cleaning the runway. Let the Civil Aviation Committee point to us which chemical to use," he said.

By Dinara Urazova


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