Tag: Airport Planning

Airport Master Plans: More Than Forecasting

“Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” Investor Warren Buffet’s simple observation encapsulates the reward that can be derived from a thoughtful long-term planning effort, whether that effort is for an individual or a central transportation hub. The dynamic Master Planning process creates a living document that is able to adapt to unanticipated events or external factors as they occur. Recent global events have highlighted the impact unanticipated events can have on the planning process. For airports, part of the planning process includes developing a comprehensive Master Plan which:

  • Evaluates the airport’s current and future role in the national airspace system,
  • Evaluates current socio-economic and technological trends, and
  • Assesses aviation demand to create short-, medium- and long-term development plans.

Master Plan Brief Overview:

A Master Plan looks at existing conditions to develop a forecast for the next five, 10 and 20 years. This includes an inventory of existing conditions, anticipated future demand and the facility requirements that can handle the projected demand. Once the aviation activity forecast is complete, alternative options for development are considered, and a financial plan is built within the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) for the next five years and beyond. A master plan should be reviewed every 10 years.

How to plan:

The first step in the Master Plan development process includes an inventory of the existing conditions at the airport. The existing condition study is more than an inventory of existing physical facilities such as hangars, terminal space, parking and runway lengths. The study should include socio-economic and demographic data for the airport service area, regional setting, land use and industry trends, which can affect the airport’s operation and sustainability.

This study is followed by the aviation forecast of aeronautical demand for various future time frames determined by individual aircraft types and aircraft operations. Forecasting consists of (passenger) enplanements, aircraft operations (takeoffs and landings) and fleet mix (type of aircraft using your airport, fixed-wing, jet, helicopter, etc.). This process identifies the critical aircraft, which dictates the design standards used in a Master Plan for future development.  

Once a forecast has been determined, submitted and approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, facility requirements will be proposed that specifically address facility additions or improvements needed to support the forecast demand. Alternative development options are then identified and evaluated based on operational, environmental and financial impacts leading to the emergence of a recommended development alternative. For example, the future development of a parallel taxiway is going to make it necessary to move a fuel farm. Alternative development will look at where the fuel farm could be relocated. Further assessment will determine the best relocation site, which becomes the “preferred alternative” for development.

Why plan:

As worldwide lockdowns were imposed and commercial passenger travel came to a virtual standstill, we in the industry were all left wondering the validity of thoughtfully prepared aviation forecasts and the proposed development plans associated with them.

Since Master Plans can adapt to unanticipated events, consider a Master Plan as your GPS: it can recalculate when you veer off course but still get you to your destination. To learn more about Master Plans and its benefits contact, me, Patrick Sharrow.

Drones: Enhancing Safety & Expanding the Aviation Community

Flying Drone

Small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS), or as they are more commonly known as, drones, are changing inspection and construction methods and expanding the aviation community. Drones are the fastest growing segment of aviation. Currently, they are being used by public safety officials, realtors, farmers, engineers and of course by aviation hobbyists across the country. Depending on your perspective, drones are an emerging aerial solution or an impending aerial disaster just waiting to happen.

A major concern of the FAA regulators are the hazards of drones and manned aircraft in the same airspace. On December 12, 2017, Barrie Barber from Cox Newspapers published “FAA: Drones more deadly than birds.” In the article, Barber writes the “FAA has guidelines for building aircraft to withstand bird strikes of a certain weight, but tougher requirements do not exist specifically for drone collisions.” While it might seem obvious that a drone could do some damage, the impact damage of a bird and drone of similar weight are significantly different.

“The research found heavier, stiffer components, such as a drone motor, battery or a camera, could cause more structural damage to an aircraft than birds of the same weight and size,” said Kiran D’Souza, an Ohio State University assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering.

While pilots have reported many drone sightings to the FAA, the FAA reports only one incident in the United States of a drone striking a Military Black Hawk helicopter in October 2017. In fact, the Unmanned Aircraft Safety Team (UAST) Drone Sightings Working Group released a new report on the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) 3,714 drone sightings reports collected by flight crews, air traffic controllers and citizens from November 2015 to March 2017. The report found that only a small percentage of drone reports pose a safety risk, while the vast majority are simply sightings.

Despite growing pains employing drones, many industries and public agencies are adding them as tools and developing workflows to effectively employ them. Stamford Connecticut police Sgt. Andrew Gallagher did an interview for the Fairfield Citizen and explained how his police department has used drones to document and analyze accident scenes, conduct searches and track suspects. Fire Departments are now using drones with infrared cameras to quickly view fire scenes from different angles to best direct the crew response.

“I have stood on more fire trucks than most firemen looking for an overhead shot. We are always looking for something to stand on,” Gallagher says in the article. Drones provide different aerial shots that can give intelligence about where a person or accident could be – in real time, without putting lives in danger.

In addition to first responder use and Amazon’s idea to deliver packages via the airways, drones have provided opportunities in the professional planning and engineering field.

Evan McDougal, Airport Planning Manager with Hoyle, Tanner & Associates, Inc., is an FAA-certified manned aircraft pilot as well as an FAA Section 107 Remote Pilot. McDougal says that drones are an inexpensive data collection solution when airports have tree obstructions that have grown into the runway approach surfaces. These obstructions can limit the ability of pilots to use instrument approaches at night and in some cases the obstructions cause the FAA to increase the cloud ceiling or visibility requirements or limit how low a pilot can descend on approach to a runway. Many runway ends in Maine are not available at night due to known tree obstructions.

McDougal believes drones could be part of the solution.

Drones can quickly capture highly accurate aerial imagery that can be analyzed using photogrammetry software to identify the boundaries of tree canopy penetrating the imaginary (but very real) instrument or visual approach surface. An example of the typical results can be seen in this effort. https://www.dropbox.com/s/iw4vabrcszm5w1s/B21_17%20End%20P4D%20Ani.mp4?dl=0

How it works: while following an autonomous flight plan the drone takes hundreds of georeferenced high definition photos. Photogrammetry software accurately stitches these photos together by matching thousands of key points within adjacent photos. This creates a full orthomosaic of the entire surveyed area and produces a very accurate three-dimensional model or point cloud that can be measured and examined thereby allowing engineers and airport owners to see exactly where runway obstructions exist.

This is but one use for a drone at airports. The technology is evolving very quickly and is limited only by our imagination.