New Hangar Build Best Practices

Oct. 12, 2023
Learn how to get from blueprint to ribbon cutting with success.

Planning a new maintenance hangar involves many steps and many people to ensure a well-designed, well-equipped and fully functional facility is constructed.

The Initial Stages

Michael Zada, vice president, project management office, West Star Aviation, said it begins with a deep consideration for whether or not demand is going to satisfy the need for a new hangar.

“Obviously people go after building hangars if there is a space constraint or the capacity’s constrained. So for us, that analysis starts way before we even decide to pick a site or pick a hangar or location with, ‘Okay, do we have the demand to justify and is there another way to satisfy the demand? Whether it’s additional labor and additional shifts,’” Zada said.

In those early stages, Zada said considerations are: Where do we want to go? What location would best benefit from the additional capacity?

“And then from there, we start making some of the more fine-tuned decisions,” he said.

Mark C. Jansen, aviation design-build project manager, Burns & McDonnell, said the key considerations during the planning, or charrette stage, include scheduling plenty of time for user interviews, walking through the existing facilities and understanding their operations, and reviewing the overall site and the lease to make sure the project is possible at the selected location on the airport.

“Equally important is making sure the users of the new facility are aligned with the part of the organization that will be financing the design and construction of the new facility. Establishing the mission of the facility and the construction budget to accomplish that mission is very important at the early stages,” said Jansen.

Where a potential new hangar will be located should also be driven in part by customer demand, said Zada.

“It gets back to where some of those sites are constrained, and then we also partner with state governments to figure out where there are incentives that will help us build in their states. For example, we were able to get some benefit with our recent expansion in Chattanooga, Tennessee from the state of Tennessee, same with Illinois. We were able to get a bit of a grant or expand on an existing grant, I should say, to help us build within Illinois as well,” he said.

Getting the Right Input

As the planning phase gets underway, directors of maintenance have the loudest voice when developing maintenance facilities, said Jansen, adding that the design team does not even begin planning the facility without the input of the users, led by the director of maintenance.

“Many times, the design team acts as the mediator between the group providing funding for the facility and the users to help provide prices for everything and separate the 'must-haves' from the 'nice-to-haves,'” Jansen continued. “The director of maintenance will have the best overview of the maintenance workflow as a whole and is best suited to provide data such as the size of the workforce, their pain points in the work process, and current and future needs.”

Outside of the DOM’s input, the commercial real estate and properties and development department of the organization provides information on the lease requirements, suitability of the site, and most importantly, the budget for the facility.

Aircraft mechanics, shop technicians and warehouse employees provide important insight into daily operations and offer valuable ideas on the design of new systems and procedures to make their jobs safer and more productive.

“Finally, the design and construction team provide critical contributions by creating detailed layouts of facilities and equipment, inputs on constructability and schedule, and immediate feedback on how the design decisions affect cost,” said Jansen.

Zada said they have a wide range of voices helping to inform them during the pre-planning phase. They include program managers, general managers, facility managers, maintenance managers and more. Getting feedback from these people helps inform some of the key components of the future hangar.

“For example, storage is always a hot commodity and it’s a hot topic because storage facility obviously needs to be conditioned, it needs to be kept near where we’re working on the aircraft, but we want to make sure that we’re getting the right mix of storage to back shop capacity to working hangar space as we’re building these out.

“So we are careful to bring in the teams that are going to be working in these facilities, make sure that we’re meeting their needs and taking their feedback as input through the entire conceptual design phase, through the actual design phase and then into the operational phase as well,” he said.

Solving for workflow in a hangar, and how people will literally flow through it, is another important aspect that Zada picks the brains of the people who will be working inside a new hangar for.

“I’ve asked folks to sit down and say, ‘All right, draw it on a map for me. I want to see where we have to go, or draw it on a plan.’ Let’s see what this is going to mean for operations as we’re looking to bring this new hangar online. I want to understand if where we are placing these offices or MEC shops or tooling centers, I want to make sure that they make sense. That way you’re not wasting technicians' time, running all around the site trying to find a specific tool or get to a place where we have interior parts stored, for example,” he said

Solving for Size

The aircraft size and maintenance activities that will be performed on aircraft help decide the size of the hangar bays or parking positions within the overall hangar. Facilities dedicated to line maintenance will have a different footprint than heavy maintenance checks, for example.

“In addition, an organization’s wingtip clearances from buildings or neighboring aircraft will have an impact on the overall space the aircraft occupy within the hangar itself. Hangars accommodating heavy maintenance activities may require more generous clearances around the aircraft to provide larger lift access next to the aircraft, allow crews to remove and work on interior components, and will require large shop and warehouse spaces. Paint hangars have special requirements for ventilation, filtration, airflow, temperature and humidity,” said Jansen.

Zada said they have developed a formula to assist in their approach.

“If you look across almost all of our sites, very similar size hangars. They tend to be about 40,000 square feet or just shy of 40,000 square feet with anywhere between 10,000 and 15,000 square feet of back shop space. So that’s kind of become more formula and that’s typically what we find effectively supports a program per site,” he described.

Fire protection helps inform this formula, with different size hangars requiring different kind of fire protection systems. Zada’s formula works to avoid having a hangar that needs foam fire suppression systems, due to foam’s damaging corrosive effects on aircraft, while still being large enough to service the fleet they do.

“We try to stay where we can apply more of a traditional wet pressurized fire system in those facilities. If you tip over a certain square foot threshold, then you’re required to go to the foam fire suppression system as opposed to a traditional wet fire suppression system. For us, we’ve decided that’s the right level of risk we want to take on in the event that one of those systems does discharge,” he said.

Future Proofing

With determining size comes aspect of future proofing, such as preparing for changes in fleet size and technology.

“We frequently advise clients to consider where the industry is headed and upsize their building accordingly. Once the design aircraft is determined, we work with our trade partners to optimize the building height, steel spans, and door openings to efficiently accommodate the aircraft and eliminate wasted floor space or building volume,” said Jansen.

He continued by saying they keep a close eye on the airframe manufacturers and global fleet compositions to make sure they provide adequate dimensions for the largest aircraft variants that are anticipated both in the current fleet and in the future.

“By providing stacking plans on the hangar floor, we show the flexibility of one widebody and several narrowbodies that can fit in one position. Some additional things we can do are provide extra clearance around the largest aircraft, keep interior columns away from the aircraft altogether, provide tail doors, and design nose bays to provide room for longer aircraft that may evolve in the future,” he continued.

Anticipating future support equipment in the structural design of a facility should also be kept in mind. For example, at their recently opened East Alton facility, Zada said they built the hangar with eventual solar implementation in mind.

“We’re thinking ahead about how can we electrify the building in a different way, and we’ve designed the building to take on additional roof load so that it can support solar panels, and we’re building the infrastructure into the building so that once we’re ready, we can pull the trigger and go ahead and install solar along the roof of the facility there,” he said.

They’re also thinking about what it would mean for electric cars or electric tugs, how do they install charging ports, and how do they run conduit underground.

Jansen added that the site selection and layout criteria should incorporate provisions to add future shops, parking, warehousing as an MRO provider’s mission evolves over the years.

“As electrification becomes mainstream, we provide extra ductbanks around the site, work with the utility provider to upsize transformer yards, and construct extra conduits within the hangars for future electric GSE,” he said

Equipped for Day One

Making sure the hangar has what it needs for its first day of operations is of even greater importance than planning for the future, and Zada said it’s a process that starts as soon as possible.

“As part of our initial evaluation phase, where we’re sizing the cost of the project, where we’re sizing the potential benefit of the project, we’re factoring all of that into what we believe we’re going to need,” he said.

Thanks to the growth West Star has experienced over the last couple years, Zada said they’ve developed a good understanding of what the tooling needs to look like to start up the hangar, what sort of additional capital they’re going to have to invest in to make sure they’ve got the right GSE, etc.

“Once we open up the hangar, equipment’s there, tools are there. We’re able to stock it, we’re able to get it set up as we need, and that way we’re operational within days as opposed to opening the door and then waiting another couple of weeks for material to continue arriving or for tools to continue arriving. So that way we’re a little more just in time with how that material shows up,” he said.

So that the building structure and utility support systems can be designed properly, decisions for pieces of equipment like fixtures, major tools and lifts, cranes, and GSE need to be made early in the design process, well before construction, added Jansen.

“We encourage clients to attend industry conferences such as MRO Americas to view the latest technology and decide if they want to incorporate new equipment into the workflow. Once the equipment selections are tabulated in an equipment list, we tailor the facility to be able to support those choices. If the workflow demands special equipment or building arrangement, we can design a custom solution for that early in the process,” he said.

Keep In Mind

New buildings benefit from a thorough commissioning process, and hangars and their systems are no exception, said Jansen.

“Commissioning includes starting up and troubleshooting the building systems, from large hangar doors to air conditioning  units for office space. This process removes frustration from the building users by making sure everything works properly and efficiently on opening day,” he said.

Some newer buildings are implementing building management systems, which allow remote monitoring of building energy performance, observing equipment performance, and creating tasks and work orders to manage the facility throughout its entire life.

“Combined with a digital as-built of the building, occupants and managers have much more information at their fingertips when the building opens its doors,” Jansen said.

Another aspect to consider is warranty coverage, which is usually one year from the completion date. It helps occupants troubleshoot problems during construction or challenges related to how they are using the building.

“Owners need to work with the construction team to solve problems with construction and consider purchasing extended warranties for equipment during the procurement phase so key items can be covered by the manufacturers for a longer period,” Jansen said.

Lastly, is obtaining the operating permits that may be required by government agencies, such as annual permits for fuel or petroleum tanks, air quality permits for things like paint or plating shops, industrial waste permits for floor drains, and noise permits for permanent generators.

“Projects, especially a large project like a hangar, always take much longer than you think. Start planning and talking to the airport early and work with your design partner to complete due diligence activities, provide layouts, examine airspace clearances, outline leasehold space needed for development and guide you on environmental concerns.

“Think about factors outside the hangar such as aircraft staging and parking, and airfield clearances. Engage all your staff to find out what they need and visit examples of facilities and talk with the occupants that work in the facility to hear about lessons learned, equipment to include, and see products in action. Project costs are always higher than expected; work with a design-builder to procure long-lead items and monitor cost data early and often to avoid sticker shock,” said Jansen.