The Sustainable Giant Shoebox
The Sustainable Giant Shoebox
The Sustainable Giant Shoebox
By: Pat Brown 1 minute read

As airlines take a hard look at insourcing maintenance operations, they're also looking at how to increase sustainability in hangars.

Airlines around the world are taking a hard look at expanding or returning to insourcing aircraft maintenance operations. Partnering between the operations group that moves passengers and the maintenance group that keeps planes airworthy can lead to cost-saving synergies for the entire operation. Skilled maintenance technicians, making immediate direct responses to disabled aircraft and shortening turn times for heavy maintenance checks, maximize aircraft dispatch rates and lead to the most coveted of airline reputations: on-time reliability.

Making the commitment to insource aircraft maintenance requires thorough cost justification for the substantial expense incurred to create and maintain the facilities that support maintenance work. Insourced maintenance operations must compete with outsourcing maintenance companies. Creating that efficient maintenance operation requires a facilities plan that supports quick and efficient movement of aircraft through scheduled and unscheduled maintenance. Aircraft hangars are some of the largest enclosed-volume spaces constructed today. That scale of building presents challenges to efficient and sustainable methods and materials.

Facility Challenges

Burns & McDonnell is designing and building aircraft maintenance facilities today under conditions that make those design and construction challenges even more complex. For a confidential client in association with Dar Group, the designer-client team is facing those challenges on a 5 million-square-foot complex of hangars and shops.

Hangars generally are “giant shoeboxes” — plain, functional facilities with limited architectural detail. How do you design a sustainable giant shoebox — an airplane garage — when one wall is made up of doors that open to the elements? Sophisticated systems and equipment for structural repair operations, aircraft painting and conversion to new uses such as passenger to cargo configurations amplifies the complexity.

New World of Design

Through client partnerships —  bringing designers, management and maintenance staffs into the process — we are jointly creating hangar spaces finely tuned to the operations that take place there. For heavy maintenance checks, gone are the wasteful, cavernous hangars of the past. For this confidential client, we are utilizing a hand-in-glove concept to shape and size the hangar to close tolerances around the aircraft. The reduction in size and volume translates to direct cost savings through reduced initial construction cost of the building shell and reduced size of the mechanical, electrical and fire protection systems that serve it. Smaller buildings and systems translate directly to reduced operating costs for the entire service life of the building.

Innovative materials and equipment make hangars more sustainable. Reflective floors reduce lighting demand and at the same time provide illumination under the giant shadow of the aircraft. Giant ceiling fans with super-efficient motors and aerodynamically tuned fan blades circulate air economically. Translucent panels filled with aerogels — the latest low-density insulative but light-transmitting solids — replace inefficient windows for daylighting. Lower density foam fire protection systems reduce water consumption and waste residue volumes. 

By combining 50 years of hangar design and construction experience with a client staff dedicated to optimizing maintenance operations, Burns & McDonnell and its clients produce sustainable and operationally superior facilities for aircraft maintenance — a true sustainable partnership.

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