In the News at Design/Build

RENO — Each year, leading representatives from aviation consulting firms and airports, along with government officials, meet for the Airport Design & Construction Symposium. This time out, two of the key topics of discussion were future system funding and the concept of airports getting into refueling and other airline ground services. And, as has been the case at this meeting for several years, an overriding theme was that of
sustainability — planning and building facilities that are sustainable over the long term and take into account environmental, efficiency, and
employee considerations.

The annual symposium is co-sponsored by the Airport Consultants Council and the American Association of Airport Executives. It brings together professionals involved in planning, construction management, information technology, and other disciplines related to airport development.

Rusty Chapman, manager of the Southern Region of the Federal Aviation Administration, led the funding discussion, presenting the case for the agency’s proposed restructuring of how the U.S. aviation system is funded. “The Administration wants to keep grants flowing to the airports that need them,” explains Chapman.

FAA is seeking a three-year authorization package, beginning October 1, that cuts Airport Improvement Program funding below recent levels; redefines general aviation airports by activity and subsequent funding entitlement levels; and, seeks to phase out entitlements to large and medium hub airports in return for increases in the passenger facility charge (PFC) cap, now set at $4.50.

FAA wants to increase the PFC cap to $6, while airport groups prefer a new cap of $7.50. Both proposals would index the cap to inflation, long a point of contention for airports. Chapman says the net effect of a PFC increase is an increase in capital development funds to the industry. The agency also wants to remove many of the restrictions related to PFC applications, and to allow airports to begin collecting the fees while a proposal is under consideration.

The agency wants to change how it categorizes general aviation airports, creating a four-tier rating system. Airports such as Teterboro (NJ) with more than 100 based aircraft would be eligible for entitlements of $400,000; airports with less than ten based aircraft would not receive an annual entitlement, though they could be eligible for ad hoc grants for special projects.

Chapman says that FAA is also trying to bring more “common sense” into the funding process for smaller airports. For example, the agency wants to make self-fueling islands and hangar renovation eligible for federal dollars, which they currently are not. At least one agency official compares the move with what occurred in the 1990s with pavement maintenance, where at one time FAA could help finance construction of a runway but could not grant money for maintaining the pavement.

Speaking for the airport community, Krys Bart, A.A.E., executive director for the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority and vice chair of AAAE, commends FAA’s initiative on its funding proposal, despite much industry disagreement. She explains that larger airports are willing to forego AIP entitlement grants for PFC levels that can be adjusted, with $7.50 the minimum. Bart says that FAA’s proposal of a $6 PFC cap “will never get us there.”

Other items highlighted by FAA from its proposal include:

  • a provision that calls for creation of a commission to evaluate the airport system, much like what’s been done with military bases in recent years;
  • a provision for the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey to explore congestion pricing mechanisms as a way to manage capacity, providing an alternative to slots; and,
  • removing restrictions for allowing more than one large airport to participate in FAA’s airport privatization program, now that Chicago Midway has applied.

According to FAA, if its funding proposal is accepted by Congress, it would not immediately be implemented overnight. FAA calls for a one-year changeover timeframe to implement its user fee-based system.

Airports and Ground Services
This year’s design/build symposium kicked off with a presentation by Bruce Carter, director for the Quad City (IL) International Airport and the first chair of the Aviation Ground Service Association, an AAAE affiliate formed in 2006. The AGSA’s core mission is to assist airport operators who have a desire or need to get into airline refueling and/or other ground services. It also seeks to bring standardization of procedures for servicing airliners and to institute a professional training program.

At Moline, Carter formed QCIA Airport Services to provide refueling to airlines. Elliott Aviation continues to provide general aviation refueling, and according to Carter declined to provide airline services, which led to the airport getting into the business.

Carter relates that the development has resulted in a “cost savings to airlines,” and has led to a need for the airport and airlines to become partners when seeking increases in air service. QCIA lost money in its first year, 2004, he says, but recorded profits of $164,039 in 2005 and $102,034 in 2006 — money being used to pay down the initial $600,000 start-up investment and to invest in new equipment for new services.
“I’m going to be in the deicing business next year,” comments Carter, who sees an opportunity to again reduce costs to carriers. Currently, all carries at Quad City do their own deicing, he says.

QCIA charges carriers a $40 hook-up fee for refueling and an into-plane fee of four to six cents per gallon; monthly revenues average some $22,000.

Carter says that the new association currently has some 50 members, and he suggests that in time the group could create “buying power” for equipment.

Regarding training, Carter says his group recognizes the strides that have been made related to line service training by the National Air Transportation Association, with its successful Safety 1st program and its recently introduced Safety Management System. On the question of whether or not there is an opportunity for AGSA and NATA to team up on training, Carter says, “I think it’s very, very important that we do that. I think it’s best that we have them as a team member.”

On the same panel, Mookie Patel, manager of airport affairs for Alaska Airlines, presented the Air Transport Association’s concerns about airports who provide airline services. “For airlines, it’s about providing reliable service and meeting customer expectations of quality and safety,” he says.

Patel says ATA is particularly concerned about above the wing services (ticketing, gate handling, etc.) being provided by airports. “Providing above the wing services goes against the grain of the airlines,” he says. “Our people who process the passengers are key to our service.”
ATA’s position is that “mixing the model” between private and public entities is not the way to go, says Patel, though he recognizes there are markets in which airports may have no choice if they are to retain air service.

New Design Criteria
Gil Neumann, a planner in FAA’s Planning & Environmental Division, says the agency has renewed efforts to update the advisory circular for Terminal Design Guidelines, last updated in 1988. FAA has teamed up with ACC and with the new Airport Cooperative Research Program, which is directed by the Transportation Research Board, for the rewrite.

Besides security, a central theme to the new guidelines will be the industry’s move toward building facilities that are sustainable in the long term — over the lifecycle of the facility, it is designed to be more cost-efficient, environmentally friendly, and offer workers a safe and healthy environment.

Gary Rahl, VP with Booz Allen Hamilton, Inc., says that sustainability has two forms — tactical and strategic. Tactical sustainability is focused on the community and the planet; it includes recycling programs; waste mitigation; and the like. Strategic sustainability looks at the future needs of the facility in its mission to serve the community. The latter includes master planning that’s holistic and equipment/technology purchases that go beyond return on investment.