The Airport’s runway expansion is one of the largest and most complex civil engineering works performed in Europe in the last decades. The Madeira island Airport is located on the South border of the island in a place named “Santa Catarina”. The need to increase the existent runway and the lack of suitable plane lands in the island, led to the decision of constructing a large prestressed concrete structure, that extends the runway from about 1800 m to a total length of 2781 m.
The structure for extension of the Madeira island airport is a bridge of unusual proportions that had to be designed to withstand the loads of large commercial airplanes. This new runway extension was built over the ocean. Instead of using landfill to construct the extension, the runway sits on 180 columns.
The adopted structural design consisted in a series of frames aligned perpendicularly to the runway axis, with 32 meter long spans between them, and which support a bi-directional prestressed concrete slab with variable thickness.
The direct foundations have an octagonal shape and a deployment area of nearly 100 m2. The reinforced concrete indirect foundations are connected by octagonal blocks supported by groups of 8 moulded piles with a 1.5m diameter and lengths which can reach as much as 62m. The runway is located at a height of 58 m above the sea level.
After it was completed, the Madeira Runway extension won the Outstanding Structures Award by the International Association of Bridge and Structural Engineering.
The new runway is widely celebrated as a great feat in architecture due to its sheer size and the amount of labor it took to erect it. The total construction costs for the extension amounted to more than 500 million Euros, a small price to pay considering pilots and passengers can now land without fear.
The new airport runway can accommodate all kinds of commercial and private aircraft and more than three million passengers per year.