Saturday, 23 July 2016

Floating airports: Could They Finally Become a Reality?

Floating airports

Runway Float over Virtually Limitless Flat Surface of Sea

Airports tend to utilise plenty of space and in areas in need of air connections, like in islands and large metropolises, it is something which is in short supply. Planners have come up with solutions by turning to the sea. Huge land reclamation projects are an apparent route which is, what has been done in Hong Kong and Osaka in expanding airport capacity. Some thinkers have taken a different approach considering that, they could make a runway float over the almost boundless flat surface of the sea.

Aircraft carriers tend to have floating runways though there are also warships which need to be manoeuvrable, travelling at speed. To manage commercial craft, their decks seem to be too small and even the largest carrier tends to fall short of the need of modern jet airliners. But taking the concept of the floating deck if it is stripped of its engine and lower decks, anchor it in a set location and make it adequately long and wide enough for a medium sized airliner to land on, the outcome would be a right large floating structure which would be neither a ship or an island but a floating airport.

Technological Research Association of Mega-Float

The British had been interested with the idea of building runways on icebergs to provide cover for the vital Atlantic convoys, during World War II. The Project Habakkuk had not materialized though the floating airport conception continued to live on. In the year 1995, 17 Japanese private companies of typically shipbuilders and steelmakers had formed the Technological Research Association of Mega-Float with the aid of the Japanese government.

 Their focus was in designing and testing a floating airport concept which if it was successful could be installed in Tokyo Bay. The Tokyo Mega-Float is said to be the most ambitious effort of its kind till date. The project required a floating structure with 4,000 meter long runway adequate even for large airliners. Smaller-scale model had been built and tested comprising of a 1,000 meter-long runway, which proved that the Mega Float was appropriate for aircraft operations. But the project did not progress and later, the structure had been dismantled.

Vision – Full-Fledged Offshore `Aerotropolic’

For San Diego, a city whose international airport seemed to have little room left to expand in its current location, similar proposals had been floated, in this case. Tenders to build a brand new two-runway international airport in the sea, few miles off Point Loma had been placed forward by two different companies namely OceanWorks Development and Float Inc. It is not known whether the price tag of $20 billion which seemed a bit too costly or the lingering doubts regarding the technical feasibility of the concept, where neither of the projects had shown up.

The San Diego projects had some resemblances with the floating airport notion which had been formulated by an American Aeronautical engineer, Terry Drinkard, who had directed widespread research in this field. His system pulls deeply from technologies and materials which have been tested already in the construction of deep-water oil rigs.

 His vision is for a full-fledged offshore `aerotropolic’, which is a floating structure that besides being able to manage medium-sized airliners would also horde an entire range of economic as well as research activities, from research with renewable energy technology to aquaculture and yachting. The structure would provide a base for oceanographic research and aquaculture and would also double as a port and recreational marine. Its possible offshore position could also draw several other economic activities.

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