Canadian Consulting Engineer

Award of Excellence: Ottawa International Airport Expansion

November 1, 2004
By Canadian Consulting Engineer



Like many of Canada’s major airports built during the 1950s and 60s, Ottawa International Airport had reached capacity in terms of processing passengers by the late 1990s, and its systems were not performing adequately. Consequently, Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport authority embarked on one of the biggest construction projects in the region for many years. The expansion program included a new 60,000-m2, multi-level air terminal building, parking facility and extensive airside and landside infrastructure improvements. In its final configuration, the airport will accommodate a projected six million passengers a year by 2020.

Selected in December 2000 as project managers, Marshall Macklin Monaghan of Toronto and J.L. Richards & Associates of Ottawa, in a joint venture known as MRM Project Managers, managed the entire program from its inception to completion for its opening in October 2003. The consulting engineers delivered the project within the $310 million budget and six months ahead of schedule, while dealing with the profound impacts of the 9/11 crisis. Besides project management, MRM designed specialty systems and provided assistance with procurement. They were also responsible for the design of the entire airline tenant fit-up and key infrastructure enabling works.

Glue for the team

The MRM team was tailored to mesh seamlessly with the airport authority staff. They acted as the glue, leading the program, keeping the entire process together and filling in the specialty consulting gaps. They also assisted the owner with independent assessments on all aspects of design and implementation.

The final contracting strategy divided the project into three major delivery vehicles: the terminal building using a construction manager as agent to the airport authority; the 1,400-space parking garage using a design/build approach, and the landside and airside contracts using traditional design/bid/build general contracting procedures.

A number of airside improvements were included. The existing two-bay aircraft de-icing facility was relocated and upgraded, and approximately 150,000-m2 of rigid and flexible apron pavement had to be either placed or rehabilitated. Eight three-tunnel apron-drive passenger loading bridges and two radial drive bridges were procured for the new building.

The airside grading and construction concept developed by MRM minimized the need for reconstruction of the apron and meant changes did not interfere with ongoing airside operations.

The new five-level, rectangular terminal building serves Canada’s unique three-sector requirements for processing passengers: domestic, international and trans-border.


MRM was asked to develop a highly integrated IT system. All the building-related management systems, including the building automation, access control, CCTV, public address, telephone, flight information and baggage information display systems operate and communicate over a single, network backbone with redundancy features. The system enhances the overall security of information while allowing data to be selectively shared. It also simplifies modifications to the system.

After the September 11, 2001 attacks and the subsequent creation of the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA), the original design for security systems had to be enhanced. MRM specified and managed the baggage handling system to accommodate CATSA’s Explosive Detection System and Hold Baggage Screening equipment. They did so without having to add building space or modify the ticketing and baggage tagging process. The system is the first fully automated, multi-level 100% Hold Baggage Screening system to be implemented in Canada.

Management organization

MRM created an organization structure that included a hands-on Managing Partner from each of the two consulting firms. MRM’s Program Manager reported to the Managing Partners on staffing and administrative issues and directly to the airport authority’s Project Director on day-to-day requirements, while overseeing all administrative, technical, schedule and financial issues.

Four separate Project Managers were assigned, each representing the four main module deliverables. An additional Specialist Project Manager coordinated procurement and installation of the special systems, which were acquired directly by the airport authority. A Project Controls Officer tracked project finances and assisted the airport authority in paying contractor and consultant invoices.

At the start of the project, MRM prepared a comprehensive procedures manual. Another management tool was the Project Scope Management System which was required to ensure that the program included all the work required — and only the work required — to complete the project successfully. Because the airline industry is in a constant state of change, the development program had to be flexible and easily modified. Several controls, construction forums and partnering sessions were used to manage such changes and foster teamwork. A full-time Project Scheduler helped to coordinate the four major independent work packages within a single concise tracking and reporting summary using Primavera P3 software. An Operations Interface Manager had the responsibility to maintain constant contact with stakeholders and ensure airport operations were not unduly interrupted during construction.

GENIVAR (new terminal building structural engineering)

The largest component of the Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport Expansion is the new $200-million, 60,400-m2 passenger terminal building. Like the rest of the expansion project, it was completed six months ahead of schedule and within budget.

Prime consultants for the terminal building were Brisbin Brook Beynon Architects, heading a team that included Ove Arup New York for the structural and mechanical concept design. GENIVAR of Ottawa prepared the final and detailed structural engineering design and documents.

The terminal building is 304 m long, 107 m deep at its widest and has three levels, plus the 6-m deep below-grade basement level. The superstructure has an elegant and efficient design, with high-finish, stylized structural components. Check-in and departures is on Level 3, express departures is on Level 2, and arrivals and baggage claim is on Level 1. The facility includes a transborder waiting area, a waiting and concession area with views of the airfield and a special water sculpture that represents the bodies of water that converge in Ottawa. There is also a giant video wall featuring national news. Two climate-controlled pedestrian bridges join the terminal to the adjacent parking structure.

Technical advances that were largely developed during the detailed structural design include:

development of unique ways to apply common shrinkage and creep control methods to large-scale continuous concreting of deep foundation walls;

use of friction piles as tension tie-down anchors to resist uplift;

use of an elegant, architecturally designed diagonal strut-and-bar arrangement in the exposed bracing system;

development of a continuous, architecturally exposed feature truss with forked “Y” end spans;

use of a feature truss stabilization system to resist unbalanced loads;

achievement of a long, joint-free building using a simple, temporary construction joint system;

production of scaled 3-D shop drawings detailed down to the bolt and notch level using high-tech computer simulations, displays and drafting.


Although the original concept called for a simple spread footing design, detailed analysis of the long span roof trusses, heavy floor loads and high overturning and uplift forces indicated that the structure would have very high column loads. Because of the building’s design and the special soil conditions with a deep sand layer, it was decided to use heavy pile foundations with deep friction piles.

Some 1,500, 25-m long friction “H” piles were used, with braced bay footi
ngs heavily piled. The friction piles were also used as tie-down anchors in tension to resist uplift. In some columns, as many as 10 x 35-mm diameter special 1,030-MPa anchor bolts were required per column.

The foundation walls acted as grade beams between the pile caps. A construction joint detail and procedure was devised to allow long concrete pours while controlling drying shrinkage. It consisted of leaving shrinkage strips between adjacent pours, and providing for large positive shear keys in both the shallow and deep basement walls. This simple procedure resulted in no shrinkage cracks.

Superstructure and roof

A major challenge was that the 183-m centre block required a joint-free design due to the architectural impossibility of adding bracing bays to the open public and baggage retrieval area. The solution was to provide a temporary construction expansion joint at mid-point to allow thermal movements before the building was closed and heated. In this temporary joint, a 3-m wide portion of the slab was left out and beams and girder connections were left to slide. After the building was enclosed and heated, all the elements were bolted, welded and connected.

The scheme worked well. The north and south wings on each side of the centre block measure 117-m and 36-m respectively, and are separated from the centre section by ordinary expansion joints. The typical floor construction consists of long span (15-m) floor beams spaced at 3-m c/c and 9-m long girders overlaid by a 100-mm slab and 750-mm composite deck.

The most unique element is the exposed steel structure of the terminal’s roof. Variable-depth long-span continuous trusses were designed with a forked Y section at each end. Trusses spaced at 18-m intervals are spanned with continuous purlins. To keep the purlins shallow, diagonal kickers supported by the truss bottom chords were designed.

To counteract the torsional and overturning effects of unbalanced loads on the trusses, a unique tie bar stabilization system redistributes these loads to the end framing.

The trusses were designed using proprietary 3-D computer software, as well as conventional 2-D software for checking purposes. The main truss supports are suspended from large, tall Y-shaped tubular columns. The west fork spans of the high roof trusses are supported by lower cantilevered forked truss ends. Taking into account the unbalanced gravity, wind, seismic and snowdrift loads on each portion of the roof was a design challenge. Further challenges related to the complicated load path system for transferring lateral forces to the respective horizontal and vertical bracing systems. Careful detailing, joint connection and design and selection of the members ensured an aesthetically clean structural arrangement.


Name of project: Ottawa International Airport Expansion Program

Award winning firm for project management: Marshall Macklin Monaghan, Toronto and J.L. Richards & Associates, Ottawa (Dale Craig, P.Eng., George McCaffrey, P.Eng., Steve Rocque, P.Eng., Gary Craig, P. Eng., Peter Schwartzentruber, P.Eng., Kim Gurney, Dan Butler, P.Eng., Brian Derich, John Dejak, P.Eng., Gerrie Doyle

Award-winning firm for terminal building structural engineering: GENIVAR, Ottawa (Jacques Sauv, P.Eng., Mark Nicoll, Patrick Lamontagne, P.Eng., Marc Audette, Robert Dorion)

Owner: Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport Authority (OMCIAA)

Other key players: YOW Consultants/Brisbin Brook Beynon Architects, Architectura, Ove Arup New York (terminal building prime consultant); R.J. McKee Engineering (mechanical and electrical), OMM Trow Consulting (civil); McCormick Rankin/Totten Sims Hubicki (landside design); Hatch Mott McDonald/Dessau Soprin (airside); PCL (terminal construction); Ellis Don with IBI (terminal parkade)

Suppliers: Walter Steel (structural steel)


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