Three must-watch trends for non-hub and small hub airports

Posted in: Aviation

plane flying in sky during sunsetNon- and small hub airports play a vital role in the national aviation system, supporting passenger and cargo airlines, general aviation, and government aviation. There are over 300 non- and small hub airports across the country. Their support of a wide variety of aeronautical and non-aeronautical activity makes them key economic drivers of their respective regions.

I’ve worked at non- and small hub airports for decades, and I’ve started to notice some recent trends in the planning challenges they face:

1. Forecast Approval

Small regional jets, the traditional mainstay of non- and small hubs, are being replaced by larger regional and narrow-body jets. New aircraft, new routes, and increased frequency can have a substantial effect on passenger volume and the throughput of the facilities that passengers use.

Airport forecasts based on recent trends may differ from Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) predictions. Forecast approval can delay the entire planning process if not addressed proactively. Support your projections with data, such as local measures of economic growth, letters from your users, air carrier fleet plans, and passenger demand analyses to help solidify your case. The most important thing is to take a facts-based approach and be proactive and direct with the FAA. Speaking up sooner rather than later can help you avoid challenges down the road.

2. FAA Airport Improvement Program (AIP) Eligibility

There has been a recent uptick of situations where AIP guidelines for new facilities are being applied to existing ones, requiring justification in the master plan in order to maintain funding eligibility.

If your user base has changed, the FAA may determine that your runways and taxiways can be reduced in size, or that some may no longer be eligible for funding. The master plan is an ideal venue to address these challenges. It’s best to start discussions with your stakeholders early in the process. Let them know funding eligibility challenges may be coming—start brainstorming ideas and gathering data to make a successful case for maintaining your facilities.

3. Longevity of Recent Growth

For an airport operator, more passengers generally equate to more opportunity; however, a spike in passenger volume can place considerable strain on facilities. If you are not prepared to respond to this demand, the congestion can bring passenger flows to a standstill. Airports across the country are working hard to provide a high level of service while efficiently spending their capital budgets.

While it is tempting to immediately respond to congestion at larger facilities, it is important to consider the affect these facilities can have on operating and maintenance costs as they . Avoid the temptation to build for the peak. This can easily lead to overbuilding if demand is not spread throughout the day, or if growth has been a relatively recent phenomenon. Designing infrastructure with a plan for future expansion if growth continues can be a great potential solution. A modular approach helps airports put the brakes on facility expansion if demand growth slows or stalls for a period.

The aviation industry continues to evolve as fast as the world around it, making it an exciting place to work. With the right planning and proactive mindset, we can overcome the challenges we face to provide an exceptional airport experience.

Mitch Hooper

About the Author

Mitch Hooper manages the West Coast Planning Department out of our Portland, OR office. He works on projects nationwide and speaks at industry events and tradeshows. Outside of aviation, he spends his time exploring the hiking trails and waterways of the Pacific Northwest.

Read more posts by Mitch Hooper

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