Every four years, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation updates its airport system plan. Two years ago, it brought in Larry Bauman, associate vice president with DMJM Aviation’s eastern region office in Philadelphia, to enhance its 2002 study. “They basically said, ‘We want a better way to prioritize projects that would be competing for the same funds,’” recalls Bauman. “And, to take it a step further they said, ‘What we want to be able to do is a down-and-dirty cost/benefit analysis because FAA’s guidelines to cost/benefit analysis are very extensive and complex. They’re costly.’ So, the state wanted the ability to have a rule of thumb assessment of which projects might be better than others, along the guidelines of the FAA’s cost/benefit analysis.” Along the way, DMJM and PennDOT developed the project contribution calculator that provides regulators a ‘plug n’ play’ analysis tool that others may find beneficial.
A block grant state, Pennsylvania has an aviation development program that serves as a state and local development funding source, and which is financed by a two cents/gallon flowage fee in a dedicated fund.
Explains Edie Letherby, planning manager for the state’s aviation department, “PENNDOT has a 12-year planning process; we meet with our public-use airports every year and identify all of their airport needs, from maintenance to new development. The airports identify their needs; we have an airport master plan for every airport. We sort of line them up based on not only their need but how they benefit the system.”
The latest 2002 system plan was developed by Wilbur Smith Associates, whom Bauman calls the “household name” when it comes to system planning.
Bauman explains that much of the focus was on the general aviation airports in the system, saying that typically the state doles out only some 5 percent of block grant monies to commercial airports in the state. “The larger airports have greater access to funds,” he says.
PennDOT’s Letherby says the contract with DMJM, which cost $295,000, sought to accomplish four tasks. “Probably the biggest one was we recognized after we went through and classified our airports in 2002 that, by lumping our commercial service in with our general aviation airports, we had a large advanced classification that wasn’t working exactly as we expected,” she explains. “It was too broad of a perspective.”
Letherby says the purpose of this study was to pull out the commercial service airports and identify criteria for that particular class, as well as fine-tuning the advanced and intermediate classifications, making them more objective — using the performance characteristics rather than subjective criteria.
“We focused really on what was the airport’s major purpose and what type of airplanes would normally use that type of service,” she says.
PennDOT also wanted to look specifically at its NPIAS [National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems] airports, some 62 in all. “We wanted to identify the coverage that we had, how well they were located across the commonwealth,” explains Letherby. “Did we have them located in areas that provide the greatest coverage for users? Did we have duplication?
“We took a look at about eight airports that we wanted to look at more in depth, and make sure that when we were evaluating them for inclusion into the NPIAS that we were using the FAA criteria and had some tools that would aid us. DMJM came up with a process and mapped it out for us. They did a sort of decision tree for us.”
The third task of the study was to analyze capacity needs in the state, according to Letherby. “As you look across the commonwealth, the only airport that has an issue with capacity is Philadelphia,” she says. “We wanted to look at what the costs and benefit would be to the system as a whole for extending these general aviation airports beyond their existing lengths to accommodate higher end aircraft — business jets, etc.
One airport over another may benefit the system more, she explains, even though there are no pressing capacity issues.
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