Drainage and recycling might be one of the less discussed aspects of airport infrastructure and everyday process but it is an important part of the effort to ensure operations can run smoothly and also assist in a gateway’s effort to optimise its sustainability life cycle
One of the leaders in the field of the design, development and manufacture of surface water drainage systems is ACO Group, which has offices in Europe, the US, Australia, the Middle East and the Far East. ACO has been making and selling drainage systems for over 70 years and airports represent one of the many market segments in which it is active.
Frad Eton-Ehtesham, ACO’s international specifications & business development manager, says that, over the last couple of years, “Our business, just like rest of the industry, has been heavily influenced by the pandemic. Costs needed to be reduced and some airport projects that we were involved in were delayed or paused.
“At the start of the pandemic we saw an unprecedented uncertainty in the market with major projects being delayed or paused.
“Despite these challenges, we have in fact been putting more resources into our airport offering by developing new products and engaging with new clients and projects,” he says.
Eton-Ehtesham took on the role of international specifications manager last year. In this post, he focuses on global airports and infrastructure projects. Now: “Operating from London, with the assistance of our international technical service and the help of local ACO companies, we are now able to serve designers with specific technical, logistical and commercial support in the airport infrastructure sector.”
With his strong background in environmental management, Eton-Ehtesham will help push this important element of ACO’s programme.
And some work has certainly gone ahead. In terms of major projects, in just the last two years ACO has started airport projects in India, Greece, Germany and Iceland. There are also ongoing projects in South America and other regions too.
Moreover, there has been a noticeable bounce-back in the market, Eton-Ehtesham says, which he dates pretty much to the third and fourth quarters of last year (it was apparent at inter airport Europe in Munich in November, for example, he says). As a result, “We have seen demand for our products for the airport sector reach record highs.
“From ACO’s perspective, our discussions with those who were investing kept going during the pandemic. The global construction pause, brought on by the pandemic, allowed the industry to take a step back and make longer term plans. We are now seeing this in clients’ demand for ‘solutions’ instead of products. And with our complete system of products, we are in a position to offer them the right solutions.”
Eton-Ehtesham recalls that a feature of inter airport Europe 2021 was the interest of planners and operators regarding investment into applications supporting a more sustainable approach in the industry. “This is an area we are investing more into,” he says.
“We recently introduced Qmax Neo, which is a new member of our Qmax family, designed for versatile, high-capacity slot drainage systems and popular for airport projects.
“This new product differs to the existing ones in terms of material, manufacturing and transportation. Due to its low component weight and its simple assembly, a quick installation without an additional lifting device is possible.
“Importantly, the stackable nature of the product means transport space is reduced by 75%, thus greatly reducing the carbon footprint and environmental impact of the product.”
Another noteworthy new product for the company is the ACO Powerdrain. This easy-to-maintain box channel comes in various sizes, complements the Qmax for infrastructure projects and offers an alternative smaller channel for these projects.
Beside ACO’s drainage portfolio, of late it has also seen strong demand for other infrastructure-orientated products like manhole covers and special covers. With the addition of the independent Detego business that now operates and is branded as ACO Detego, ACO also now offers complex steel structures and special covers like emergency floor-exits and hydraulic ground gates. These products complement ACO’s solutions for heavy infrastructure projects like airports, Eton-Ehtesham points out.
In fact, he says, ACO offers “a complete range of products for the airport market”. Its ethos is built around offering an entire system chain, featuring Collect, Clean, Hold and now Reuse.
“The term ‘recycling’ in our world means the reuse of water. This is an important part of the ACO system chain approach of Collect, Clean, Hold and Reuse. We care for water from surfaces, such as on buildings, aprons and runways, until it is either fed back into the natural water system or treated and stored for reuse.
“With the impact of global warming, we know to expect more regular extreme weather conditions such as rainstorms and droughts moving forward,” he continues. “We believe we have a system chain to help clients future-proof all their infrastructure project to better withstand these extreme conditions for decades to come.”
“Building on our global experience in this [airport] sector, we constantly innovate our offering,” Eton-Ehtesham informs. “For example, we are currently heavily investing in more digitised and integrated smart solutions for surface water management, in airport buildings as well as for outside infrastructure.
“This will expand our system chain further, allowing airport management/operators to reuse collected water for green infrastructure, cleaning or other benefits – all from a central hub.”
A growing product range with additional capability and greater environmental sustainability is drawing in new customers. ACO has offices in over 40 countries throughout six continents, and it is – says Eton-Ehtesham – very proud of its global reach and customer base around the world.
Moreover, today it is particularly expanding its footprint in Southeast Asia, as well as Central and South America.
Family owned, globally active
EJ is a market leader in the design, manufacture and distribution of access solutions for water, sewer, drainage, telecommunications and utility networks worldwide. A family-owned business founded 138 years ago, it is today a global enterprise that spans five continents.
Promoting innovation and quality and avowing a commitment to customer service, EJ’s commercial presence around the world includes 50 sales offices, manufacturing facilities and distribution hubs, as well as numerous research and development centres.
Using state-of-the art manufacturing techniques, the Michigan, US-headquartered company supplies products in cast iron, steel (galvanised or stainless), aluminium or composite materials. It has a full catalogue of off-the-shelf products as well as modular solutions that can be assembled, but also has engineers who can develop specific, tailor-made solutions to meet end-users’ specific needs.
For airports, it supplies infrastructure access solutions for lighting, refuelling, electrical and water networks. EJ offers a very comprehensive ductile iron range including its F900, foreign object debris (FOD) compliant hinged and assisted manhole covers and drainage gratings (see the accompanying 3D drawings on page 24).
“Our solutions are designed to ensure human safety and reliability and to generate maintenance cost savings over time,” observes EJ’s airports market director EMEA, Alberto Candil.
Plus, EJ’s team of airport experts offers continuous support to partners and customers during the specification, construction and operation phases of any project.
“As a leader and specialist in infrastructure access solutions, we offer a very complete range in terms of load resistance, sizes and supporting features,” Candil outlines. EJ’s F900 covers are adapted for installation on runways with heavy load resistance, but the company also offers solutions for public spaces such as parking areas, terminals and the like.
“Depending on the location and therefore on the constraints, we can offer solutions in cast iron, in steel or in aluminum and composite, from our five European production sites,” he informs.
“We produce a wide range of standard and modular solutions but our in-house projects teams are also able to design completely personalised solutions. What makes our offer special is also the wide set of options available. Our solutions offer various locking options, different shapes, sizes and safety features such as grids, lift assistance such as hinges, etc.”
Candil continues: “It’s our mission as an expert to design and manufacture products based on our customers’ needs. We have experts in airports, in design, in covers, in various materials, and we have both the industrial force and the design expertise to work on very specific solutions for very specific needs.
“Finally, and this is of the highest importance for EJ, safety is our group’s number one concern, and this focus is reflected in our products. Third-party certified, they meet the most demanding standards. Our designs guarantee safety to those who install and maintain them, but also to those who will pass or roll over them every day.
“Finally, reliability is also a very important factor, so our solutions are produced using quality materials, and are tested and approved by third parties according to internationally recognised standards.”
EJ has continued to sell its products into the airport market, despite the massive downturn in the aviation industry. Earlier this year, in February, it supplied 46 of its modular ERMATIC® access covers to Italy’s Verona Airport in support of the gateway’s new runway lighting project. EJ had been working since 2020 with the SYNERGO design company as well as the Verona Airport Authority on the project to design the right solution for the latter’s needs.
Last year saw EJ support a number of other airport projects, including:
- Ireland’s Dublin and Cork Airports, both managed by DAA (previously Dublin Airport Authority), where the project mainly involved EJ’s Hinged Hatch solution and ERMATIC® covers
- Spain’s Madrid Airport, where ERMATIC® covers, AQUERA drainage grates, and DT9S and CA05110DVL gratings were installed
- Poland’s Krakow and Radom airports, where EJ’s Hinged Hatch and LSPB covers were installed
Candil admits that the pandemic led to a lower level of investment in the aviation sector, but points out that some airports used the slowdown to actually move ahead more quickly on some work, taking advantage of low traffic volumes to undertake upgrade work in those cases where project budgets had been approved prior to the pandemic.
Moreover, “We feel that the market is now recovering slowly. And for the long term, the structural need for better and bigger airport infrastructure remains, driving investment.”
Meanwhile, EJ itself has continued to invest in its own product lines. Products recently launched have been consistent with the need for greater network security and heightened user safety trends, says Candil.
EJ’s DEFENSO® range has been designed to secure critical networks: the high-security cover is certified by the Loss Prevention Certification Board for anti-intrusion (to the LPCB’s SR4 level, the highest for that category of product); it is also recommended for anti-terrorist applications.
The DEFENSO® range includes an Internet of Things (IoT) solution combining connected covers with a monitoring platform. This solution is able to detect unauthorised openings and attempts at intrusion through vibrations and temperature variation and, in such a case, offers an alert. “This is the ultimate answer for the protection of sensitive chambers and networks,” says Candil.
EJ has also developed electro-hydraulically operated steel covers for the Berlin Metro. These are connected to the underground system’s fire alert system and open automatically to allow smoke to escape in the event of a fire. These can even push aside a 10-ton car or truck that is parked on them if needed.
“Thanks to our close relations with consultants and airport authorities, we are in a position to design tomorrow’s solutions together,” Candil declares. “Where possible, we can also retrofit existing products, thereby limiting costs and operational disruption for our customers.”
EJ has helped with projects at many of the busiest airports around the world, and is seeing some shift in demand patterns. Today, more than ever, “Stakeholders are demanding sustainability and transparency,” says Candil. But, “We have always worked under those principles. Besides offering safety, reliability and expertise, we are committed to conducting our activities in a sustainable way that is respectful of the environment and communities.
“That is why our production sites based in Europe operate under ISO management systems. Our products in cast iron manufactured at our foundry in France are composed of a minimum of 92% recycled materials, and the foundry was awarded the EcoVadis Gold Medal in 2020 and 2021, an evaluation based on environmental and social responsibility.
“Those principles – of sustainability, ethics, responsible purchasing and human rights – are key nowadays to secure business and some of our customers are even requesting guarantees of our performance in those areas.”
Finally, Candil concludes, “We are also seeing a trend towards an ever greater emphasis on operator safety. Our customers want to minimise maintenance times to be more efficient and reduce costs, but they are also concerned about the safety of their own workers. Therefore, we are developing more and more products of specific designs that enable workers to lift up access covers with the least possible effort, thus reducing injuries.”