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Posted on November 1st, 2016

Our Changing Landscape – Fort McMurray International Airport

In this monthly feature, we span the globe to examine Our Changing Landscape with time series of medium resolution RapidEye satellite imagery. The RapidEye archive dates back to late 2008 and already contains more than 8 billion square kilometers of data. In October we focused on the construction of a Suadi Arabian seaport, and this month we head back to North America with a look at the expansion of Fort McMurray International Airport in Canada.

Click on the image above to see an animation of 5-meter natural color RapidEye imagery collected over Fort McMurray International Airport on September 2, 2010, September 28, 2012, September 27, 2013, November 17, 2015 and July 18, 2016. Now first an apology for the clouds in the 2010 image and the snow in the 2015 image, however those were the best options we could find here. But either way, in this animation you can see significant growth of the airport, particularly on its south-eastern side as well as improved runways. You can also see significant growth in the surrounding areas which is more evidence the airport needed an expansion. (Images Courtesy: Planet)

The RapidEye Constellation

RapidEye is a constellation of five 5-meter medium resolution satellites each offering five spectral bands of information. The RapidEye constellation offers daily revisits to every location on the planet with a huge footprint that is 77-km wide. The data is priced competitively with a starting cost of $1.28 per square kilometer for all five spectral bands – academics do receive discounts. RapidEye adds a fifth band, the red edge, to the ‘traditional’ multispectral set of blue, green, red and near-infrared (NIR). The additional spectral data in the red edge band allows users to extract more useful land ‘information’ than can be from traditional 4-band imagery sources. When RapidEye imagery is ordered as a Level 3A Orthorectified product, images from multiple dates are extremely well registered, making it the ideal data source for Our Changing Landscape.

Fort McMurray International Airport

Fort McMurray International Airport is located in west-central Alberta, Canada about 8 miles from downtown Fort McMurray. The history of the airport dates back to 1936 when the first landing strip was installed and over the years it was expanded to serve military needs during World War II and then to serve the growing regional population. In 1986, a terminal designed to handle 250,000 passengers per year was built. By 2009, Fort McMurray International Airport was handling more than 700,000 passengers per year – fueled in part by the boom of oil sands production. Consequently, the local airport commission approved a massive expansion of the current terminal in the same year and its construction broke ground in August 2011.

The airport expansion project was completed by June 9, 2014 with a price tag of $258 million. Stantec Consulting Ltd. managed the project where a nearly 160,000 square feet terminal was built, about five times the size of the original structure. Here are some statistics about the new terminal to give you a sense of the scale:

  • The new terminal has eight total gates (four on the ground and four as bridges) with plans to add six more gates in the coming years.
  • There are 16 concessions stands in the new terminal where the original building had just three stands.
  • There is approximately 100,000 cubic feet of timber used in the terminal, making it the most extensive use of timber in any North American building. In fact, this amount of wood represents 8 minutes of growth of all of North America’s forests!
  • There is a 20-foot tall and 140-foot wide LED display in the terminal that gives passengers the feel of the aurora borealis, a popular location attraction.

The new facility can handle some 1.5 million passengers per year which is enough capacity to get the airport to 2030 at 3% growth per year. With continued growth expected in the region even with the recent downturn in oil sands production, there are already expansions plans in the works, including a new four-star hotel, a runway lengthening and even another terminal expansion (wait what?!). Many of these expansions appear to be underway currently so it is time to turn to the 5-meter RapidEye archive to see how the site appears.

If you would like to find out more about using RapidEye for your academic studies, engineering projects or any landscape analysis, let us know at or (303) 993-3863.

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