TRB - Researching Airports

DFW International Airport executive VP Jim Crites examines the progress of the Airport Cooperative Research Program and puts out a call for industry to participate.

Let’s say you’re a manager of some small or mid-sized airport. What you get is a document that has all of this contained in it. Here are some guidelines; ask the contractor to comply with these kinds of things. It’s a less risk analysis for somebody at a small airport.

Can you imagine the impact at the hundreds of airports out there? They’re faced with the whole myriad of problems of large airports — capacity; security; environment; customer service; passenger throughput rates; terminal layout design. This type of research is tailored to provide practitioners with ways to approach the myriad of problems and give them a head start on addressing the issues at their airport. I think this is going to benefit customers, airlines, the FAA, TSA, EPA.

It’s been proven out with the National Cooperative Highway Research Program and the Transit Cooperative Research Program. Common understanding; uncommon problems.

AB: What does the fact that it’s under the umbrella of the TRB mean to the program?

Crites: They know how to guide; and, it’s independent under the Transportation Research Board. Science is their business; independent analysis is their business. So, it’s quality research and something you can hang your hat on. They’re going to bring together good people to formulate solid program statements for research, and analyze that research to ensure that it undergoes peer review. The value of this is that you get the scholarly academic review of your work, and criticism of it.

AB: As someone who has been with this effort from the beginning, what are your thoughts on the progress to date?

Crites: I’m very optimistic at this point. This has been such a rapidly evolving industry – business models of air carriers changing; various roles that FAA and airports play – it’s hard to get a clear focus on what needs to be done and who really contributes to addressing issues. So, we are going to go out and actually independently assess this. There have been legitimate concerns [in launching the program]: Will we all have a voice at the table? Will it be of value over the long term? Things are changing so quickly.

It got people to focus on what the critical issues are; what their impacts are to all stakeholders, whether it be the airlines, the regulators, the airports.

AB: Are there specific parameters for submitting proposals?

Crites: How serious is the issue? What’s the likelihood that you’re going to be able to come up with something that will be able to address the issue now? Have you properly accommodated all the stakeholders’ needs?

What happened over the past two days is, you saw people coming into that meeting getting ready to pick projects. What came out of this dialog was that all the stakeholders were able to express their interests in each of the projects. From that came a great sense of comfort that all of us on this committee were really interested in each other. We all realized that aviation is rocket science; it takes everyone working together to make airplanes fly safely and efficiently.

The other light bulb that went off was there was a deeper understanding by all the stakeholders as to the needs of each other, and why those needs had to be satisfied. This was cooperative.

AB: We’ve heard you express your frustrations before about getting this off the ground.

Crites: There was a lot of anxiety by a lot of people as to what this program could do to them. So, coming out of this meeting, people felt positive that we were onto something good.

AB: What are some of the next challenges facing the program?

Crites: We had more than $4.7 million to play with to start up this program, and we’re going to be coming back together in six months to start considering the next round of projects.

Now, let’s do a little bit of math; 24 research statements; let’s say you have five people on each board – that’s 120 folks. We need 24 research teams to go out and do this research. So we need 120 people to come together just to set up what the real problem statements are and shepherd these programs.

So, this is a program for all the stakeholders in aviation. My appeal is that all the stakeholders get engaged in this, because it is for them and it’s going to be done by them. It’s going to help all.

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