Hoyle Tanner aviation professionals have worked on hundreds of projects in New England and Florida. What we know about airports is that even though their components are similar, each has its own unique fleet mix, operations, management and facility needs. For example, climate will play a significant role in the design of a Florida versus New England airport. There are other differences between airports that most people don’t think about: how military operations work at airports, and what types of airports can even support those operations.
Defining Different Airports
There are three kinds of military airports, a) Military only, b) joint-use, and c) shared-use. Military only is meant for Department of Defense use only, and no civilian aircraft utilize the airfield. A joint-use airport is a military airport that arranges for civilian access to the airfield. There are 21 joint-use airports in the United States. A shared-use airport is owned by the US government and co-located with an airport specified under Federal Code of Regulations 139.1(a). At shared-use airports, portions of the airfields are shared by both parties.
How the Different Types Came to Be: The War Era
As of 2020, there were 65 shared-use airports across the nation. A few in New England include Portsmouth International Airport at Pease, Bangor International Airport, Burlington International Airport, Bradley International Airport, Westfield Barnes Regional Airport, and Quonset State Airport. Not surprisingly, many of these airports can trace their roots back to their military ownership during World War II. Through the Development of Landing Areas for National Defense (DLAND) appropriation, the Secretary of War and Commerce and the Secretary of the Navy enabled land acquisition to build 986 airports throughout the United States. Many of these airports still exist where you live, as after the war many were declared surplus, and transferred to municipalities for civilian use. Additionally, since 1977, Congress has periodically granted temporary authorities known as Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) on five occasions. As a result, more than 350 military installations have been closed, some remaining as shared-use airports.
There are different design standards in terms of maintaining the infrastructure on these shared use airport facilities. For instance, the US Air Force has different geometric layout criteria for runways, taxiways and aprons, and safety-critical areas. Additionally, there are different pavement design methods and ways to determine the required runway length for both civilian and military aircraft. An example of a differing design standard is shown in the accompanying colored graphic. In terms of runway thickness, it is interesting to note that pavement strength at all types of airports is a function of underlying pavement materials, aircraft fleet mix, number of operations, aircraft weight, and gear configuration. Given all these variables, a runway’s pavement thickness is not always driven by the biggest and heaviest aircraft, and therefore not all military airfields require the longest or thickest runways. If you have flown into a joint-use or shared-use runway, you will note that the military has typically required some (if not all) of their runway to be made of concrete instead of asphalt; a difference in material choice driven by design standards, hot weather conditions, and in some cases, availability of one material over another.
Transitioning from One Type of Airport to Another
To help transition from a military base and airfield to a civilian airport, FAA administers a separate funding program called the Military Airports Program (MAP). This program assists new sponsors in converting former military airfields to public use to add system capacity and reduce congestion at existing airports experiencing significant delays. Both the Portsmouth International Airport at Pease and Brunswick Executive Airport have been recipients of MAP funding in recent past. Being in MAP affords an airport sponsor an additional stream of funding through FAA that can be used in addition to the traditional FAA funding avenues. In the cases of Portsmouth International Airport at Pease and Brunswick Executive Airports, this program has been very successful in replacing the lost jobs, businesses, and reduces the impact to the local economy that occurred when Pease Air Force Base and Brunswick Naval Air Station closed.
Experience all Around
Hoyle Tanner has developed a strong history of planning and designing projects at six current shared-use airports, one joint-use airport, two in the MAP program, and three former military airfields closed due to BRAC. If you want to learn more about the differences between joint-use and shared-use airports, please contact any of these experts within our company: Our subject matter expert for the MAP program is Suzanne Sheppard, PE, and for shared-use airports Nils Gonzalez, PE and Tim Audet, PE. We recognize the value of airports in our communities, especially when the military use and mission enhances the infrastructure, supporting airfield services and overall value of civilian use.