The future of planning for small airports is…now

Posted in: Aviation

Click to view a future layout for the sustainability of a small airport.

Planning for small airports is, and must be, moving focus from infrastructure to sustainability. Sustainability in this case means more ability to sustain than it does turning bottles into ink pens. For many airports, the days of preserving land long-term for new runways have been replaced with determining how to use every available acre to drive the economy. The plan must show that the airport DOES have a future.

The majority of airports across the country are small airports, and many people commonly misunderstand that they serve only wealthy hobbyists. Under-appreciated airports must make the most of what they have. The planning process provides an opportunity to go beyond identifying future infrastructure needs, to educate stakeholders on the airport’s benefits, and to determine what more the airport can do for the community. The airport must be as much about the economy as it is about transportation.

Recent planning success

Mead & Hunt recently completed planning for a small, busy metro-area airport that had been reserving more pavements than needed to meet long-term demand and more real estate than needed to park and store aircraft. Additionally, the airport was incurring more operating and maintenance expenses than fees it collected from users and tenants – a long way from being sustainable. Even though the airport was one of the most active in the state, it was not clear what real benefit was coming from the activity.

A committee of two dozen stakeholders assembled to learn about the airport’s functional, regulatory and financial environment, and to provide their perspectives on the airport’s value and future. The committee began with a visioning session to set expectations and align priorities. Follow-on sessions presented facts about the existing facility and forecasts of future activity. This exchange:

  • Educated stakeholders about the airport’s reality
  • Presented options to balance aviation facilities with economic benefit
  • Established a process to position the airport and community for opportunity

The result is near-term optimization of runway length, mid-term consolidation of terminal areas, and long-term non-aeronautical development of excess land to generate revenue for the airport. This will be accomplished via partnership with the airport sponsor and adjacent community to attract and facilitate developers and employers. The result will be a sustainable airport with both financial and community support that meets the need for transportation and economic development.

Small airports need the planning process to prove their place in the community, win public support and advocacy, and identify revenue development strategy and opportunity. The future of small airport planning is here, and it’s focused on sustainability. Are you ready?

Damon Smith, PE

About the Author

Damon Smith, P.E., is adept at employing communication, people and planning to attain project advancement and stakeholder satisfaction. Damon gained his education (and his southern accent) from the University of Louisville, is past chair of the Airport Consultants Council Planning Committee and current  Northwest Chapter of the American Association of Airport Executives Board Member. Although he prefers to be hiking, motorcycling, paddling and listening to music, he is more often found removing thorns and thistle from his yard.

Read more posts by Damon Smith, PE

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