In the DCist's August 8, 2023 At DCA, Crews Race Each Night To Repave A Bit Of Runway Before The Next Day’s Flights they describe how runway repaving at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) is being done.

From what I gather from the text below, each night starting promptly at 00:00 a section is dug up (top 8 inches removed) and between 01:00 and 03:00 the section is repaved with "quick-set asphalt" such that at only a few hours later at 06:00 the first flights are using the new asphalt.

Question: How common is the use of "quick-set asphalt" on runways such that flights may begin just a few hours after paving?

There must be an awful lot of checking and inspecting going on between 03:00 and 06:00 such that the new runway section is qualified for unlimited use (big heavy planes, potentially hard landings) each morning. Is this a one-of-a-kind situation or more common than I'd realized?

11:57 p.m.: It is just minutes before midnight and a series of American Airlines planes are taking off in quick succession before the deadline. The last plane takes off just seconds before the clock hits midnight and the calendar turns over to July 17.

“This is whisky 4-7, are we clear to get in?” a worker asks into a handheld radio.

“(Secondary runway) 15/33 is now closed,” an air traffic controller responds. “I repeat 15/33 is now closed. You can now proceed onto 15/33.”

Even before the air traffic controller finishes his sentence, dozens of trucks, semis, and other equipment are off to the races, speeding ahead to the work site. The much slower brontosaurus-looking milling machines follow slowly behind.


12:15 a.m.: The specialized milling machines get to work cutting eight inches deep in one swoop. They’ll do a 15-foot wide stretch about three football fields long in an hour.

When they’re done, they leave rough pavement in their wake. Then, crews lay hot asphalt and roll it flat, which takes about two hours.

So how do planes land the next morning without getting sticky tar on them? It’s because crews use quick-set asphalt and only do small portions of the runway at a time.


The next morning we learn the crew beat the clock: A United flight to Newark took off at 6 a.m. on the dot that morning. It’s another night well-orchestrated, and they’ll do it all over again tomorrow. It’s the latest in a line of triumphs; workers haven’t missed a deadline yet.

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    $\begingroup$ Sounds horrifyingly expensive. $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Commented Aug 10, 2023 at 22:20
  • $\begingroup$ @Chris Yes, no doubt. Wikipedia's Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport says "It is the smaller of two airports owned by the federal government and operated by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) that serve the Washington metropolitan area around Washington, D.C.; the larger is Dulles International Airport" which is further away from DC. So I don't think the focus is on maximizing short-term profit; From the Government's point of view it's simply essential. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Aug 10, 2023 at 22:44
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    $\begingroup$ @Chris and the US government is certainly no stranger to "horrifyingly expensive" endeavors. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Aug 10, 2023 at 22:47
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    $\begingroup$ Horrifyingly expensive compared to what? Doing the work more slowly during the daytime would be horrifyingly expensive if the airport lost revenue because they had to reduce capacity or close while the work was completed. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 11, 2023 at 5:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Chris Doesn't sound that expensive to me - maybe double the cost of doing it all in one go, in daylight? (Men working 2/3 of a full shift , but on slightly higher pay rates.) $\endgroup$
    – MikeB
    Commented Aug 18, 2023 at 14:45

1 Answer 1


Apparently this isn't just common, but appears on its way to becoming a standard practice. London's Gatwick Airport (LGW) recently redid its main runway (they have a shorter and narrower standby runway only used in situations like this) and they used asphalt as well (paving portion starts around 7:39 in the video)

Gatwick actually staged a temporary on-site asphalt batching system and laid new sections in two layers done in one night

This highly innovative approach moved away from the traditional method where sections of the old runway surface is replaced with two layers, laid over two nights. Instead, a resurfacing technique was developed that saw both layers laid in a single night – saving time.

As with DCA, the runway was in use by the next morning


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