Comments Letherby, “We really didn’t have, apart from FAA’s cost/benefit analysis, a tool to help us evaluate those from a numbers standpoint. DMJM actually put together an airport project capacity calculator, and if we put in certain information into the calculator it will give us an idea of what cost per increased annual operation will be at a particular airport. Also, if we put all of the airports that are looking for the same kind of runway extensions into the calculator, we can sort of get a ranking as to which one would be the most beneficial to the system as a whole.
“It’s not really a capacity calculator; it’s really a project contribution calculator.”
The calculator also helped with the study’s fourth objective, she says, which was to help PennDOT come up with a quick analytical tool it could use to justify budget requests to legislators.
“Working with DMJM we put together an average time it would take to do different types of projects, using the FAA’s project purpose coding,” says Letherby.
PennDOT maintains a programming database where it collects airport needs, from which it implements a four-year program to carve out projects that it judges as worth doing over a four-year period. Letherby says the agency can better evaluate funding needs over the four-year term and more clearly identify which airport projects bring more value to the state system.
Bauman relates that the study took some 16 months to finish, four months longer than projected. “They wanted to do a bit of a road show and go out for some meetings around the state and talk with the airport sponsors, which we hadn’t contemplated at first,” he explains. “There were really no glitches; it was just a matter of making sure there was time for everybody to get a review in of all the deliverables.”
Surprises along the way
Bauman relates that among the surprises during the research, top of the list was that several states had come to similar conclusions as his study but had not taken them a step further. “There were numerous states that understood from an academic standpoint that in order to determine a project’s benefits you have to boil everything down to a common denominator. That would typically be operational impact. Does it increase capacity? How much?
“What was a surprise was that I hadn’t seen whether any other states had ever ventured this far. They all realized what the proper methodology was to do it, but I’d never seen anyone take it a couple of steps further than that.
“This little spreadsheet tool came together nicely — that was kind of a surprise.”
Bauman says that the initial intent was to focus on the term ‘capacity’, but as the research ensued it became evident that there was no capacity shortfall issue. “They were afraid to give it the wrong connotation, to imply that there was a capacity situation,” he explains. “That’s when we made the decision to call it an operational contribution calculator.”
He says the calculator is purely a tool to look at groups of airports and competing projects at different airports, as opposed to looking at projects at a single airport. The exception, he says, is if a single airport is looking at a project on one runway versus another, then it is applicable. “It’s absolutely set up to use as a tool for regional system planning,” he comments.
Calculating the benefit
Projects are grouped under four headings, according to Bauman — runway length; parallel taxiway; parking/apron; and new hangar space. “Those were the projects we focused on,” he says, “the reason being those are typically your high-priced items; they’re typically large enough where they have to be funded over multiple years.
“It will calculate with very standard and reproducable algorithm that we developed from FAA documentation; it will calculate a whole range of different parameters. It will tell you what the operational contribution of that runway extension would be; it will tell you how many higher performance types of aircraft you can handle by extending your runway in 500-foot increments. If you input the cost of the project, it will then explain how much your paying in dollars per increased operational contribution — hence, a cost/benefit assessment. It will tell you how much additional benefit your dollar is buying.”
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