Royal Air Force Station MoD

Published on 7th March 2019
Ascension Islands, Ministry of Defence project
  • Division: Commercial Roofing
  • Client: MoD
  • Location: Ascension Islands
  • Sector: Commercial

Avonside Roofing, through a robust tendering process, was awarded in one of their most challenging contracts to date. The contract was to refurbish the Ministry Of Defence airplane hangers at the Royal Air Force Station on the Ascension Islands some 4500 miles away.

The 9000-mile round trip bought up many logistical considerations to support a successful operational programme of works that would realise timely completion and exemplar workmanship within budget parameters.

Avonside’s management team’s first visit to the Ascension Islands in January was to conduct a thorough site survey and measure the three buildings initially indicated within the contract specifications. Upon arrival, the team was advised that the MoD had secured additional funding available to enable all eight hangers on the islands to have their metal roofs and all associated works replaced.

These additional works, plus the initial allocation, had to be completed within the original timeframe, and before the financial year ended.

From the first site visit, and subsequent detailed surveys of all eight buildings, including a large aircraft hanger, the team began to develop a programme of works based on the most cost-effective, commercial efficient design specifications in both materials and resources to undertake the works.

The principle operational issues to be given consideration were:

  •  Site access – 9000 round journey
  •  Deliveries – limited to air traffic timetable
  •  Health and Safety
  •  Timeframe for completion aligned to financial considerations
  •  Availability of Scaffolding to remain in situ throughout the programme of works
  •  Procedures in place to maintain site functionality

Many of these issues have to be assessed at the beginning of any project however due to the distance from the Letchworth branch in the UK, the additional security arrangements to comply with the MoD requirements, plus the realisation that assigned tradespeople would be based on the Ascension Islands for three months to complete the works were key factors that needed careful consideration.

The main risks to be considered by the team were:

  •  Strains on available workforce by taking tradespeople out of the resource pool for three months
  •  The staggering distance of 4231 miles from central support services
  •  Ensuring delivery of all key components, including scaffolding, arrived in sync with the programme, without exceptions
  •  Personal arrangements, operatives away from family and familiar surrounding for three months
  •  Meeting the completion timelines with the addition of five extra buildings
  •  Transport management – including planes and boats!
  •  Limited and restricted communication

Health and safety – examples:

  •  Working on a live airport
  •  Weather conditions
  •  Working at Height

Whilst originally the team were apprehensive to take this project on, after the initial visit, the team began to devise a detailed programme incorporating the knowledge and skill base from the whole of Avonside Group Services. This approach, combined with the support from the MoD with regard to accepting the material recommendations, the preferred design, and method of application for each individual building, meant that enthusiasm to start the contract began to grow.

This enthusiasm, 110% commitment from the team and Avonside Group, plus acceptance of all our recommendations were the primary reason that the entire project was completed on time, to budget, and to the exact quality standards required by the MoD.

Recommending Materials to the MOD

After successfully securing the additional 5 buildings, which had to be incorporated into the original timeframe and be completed by the end of the financial year to realise the MoD’s spend, we again used our expertise advising the MoD of recommended materials, methods of application to support an achievable programme of works to meet the timeframe and ensure all the buildings would be completed the original deadline.

Logistical Challenges

Access considerations had to be made not only concerning the site itself but also the fact that we were going to be working in a different country for the MoD. Baseline security forms, including Disclosure Scotland applications, had to be made for all operatives assigned to the contract. No operative would be allowed onto the island with any criminal conviction. Therefore, no matter how much planning or material recommendations at the design stage, our reputation and, in due course, ability to undertake this contract depended ultimately on the reputation and high calibre of all operatives directly employed by Avonside Roofing.

Therefore, the acceptance by the MoD to undertake this work in a highly sensitive and active military base is a true reflection that we directly employ a workforce of exemplar technical skills and high merit.

This active military base, encompassing a very busy airfield, would remain fully operational throughout the programme of works.

New Health and Safety Issues to Consider

The Health and Safety risks associated with airside work is something that the Letchworth Management team have never had to consider before, however, was crucial to this project so thorough risk assessments had to be undertaken ensuring all the safe systems of working procedures and method statements were put in place. These included the volatile wind conditions that are associated and the complications these would cause when working at height using metal sheeting.

Additional key health and safety considerations included the landing and take-off of all aircraft throughout the day and night. Therefore all materials and site debris had to be robustly stored and monitored, including the control of potentially airborne debris to prevent particles from being blown into the air pan. All operatives had to stop work whilst planes were landing or taking off too.

The logistical issue associated with this project was the necessary allowances for the delivery of materials to the site. The programme had to incorporate a 5 week lead time, as well as the logistics of getting the required scaffolding and trained operatives to the island.

All materials were delivered to Marchwood in Southampton, then shipped and offloaded on the island. Operatives flew from RAF Brize Norton, and the main form of transport whilst on the island was MoD boats, vehicles, and planes.

Avonside Roofing’s input into the designs and materials used, plus utilising their skilled operatives and developing a detailed supportive programme of works with key task milestone dates and objectives, ensured that the entire contract ran well whilst realising cost efficiencies.

These included using high-quality aluminium materials and stainless steel fixings, materials able to withstand the harsh environment of the Ascension Islands, and give an approximate lifespan of 25 years.

New Skills Needed

Both contracts managers on this project were apprehensive about the project initially, both had to increase their own and their teams’ skill set to complete the contract. In addition, they had to hone their operational procedures and ability to manage such a difficult project whilst 4231 miles away from home and the office!

They did this extremely successfully and the contract was a complete success, despite the logistical issues that arose and the fact the works had to be completed under the strict provision of The Ministry of Defence.