INSIDE THE INDUSTRY
By Ginger Evans, National Aviation Manager, Carter & Burgess
Consultant sees benefits in standards that build off others and offer flexible funding
Until last year, because of ongoing fast-paced capital programs, it was difficult to contemplate major technical or administrative changes in our industry. These delays have created an opportune time for the airport consulting industry to take the initiative and support overdue changes. Because budgets are being stretched to cover new initiatives, we must identify areas of technology transfer, where we can utilize research investment from other agencies to improve aviation.
Recently, the Transportation
Worker ID Card (fondly known as TWIC) funding was cancelled when a Congressman
noted that it was remarkably similar to a technology initiative already
underway by the military. We must take advantage of areas of opportunity
available to us from other industries and agencies. We must take initiative
and start driving these changes and innovations from the bottom up, lest
we be forever reactive to direction from the top.
Are we open to technology transfer from other industries? Are we asking the right questions? What more can we do? Following are some example areas of opportunity.
Runway Incursions. According to FAA's Runway Incursion Action Team website, over the last seven years, annual runway incursions have increased from 186 to 322. When they discuss current actions to reduce incursions, FAA focuses on communication, specifically misunderstanding of voice transmissions, and training, to reduce loss of situational awareness. FAA's implementation of the Airport Movement Area Safety System and Automated Sur-face Detection Equipment is highly commendable but it's not enough.
FAA funded demonstration projects for advanced lighting systems in the late 1980s to enhance taxiing capabilities in low visibility conditions and reduce the potential for runway incursions. Today only six airports have red stop bars at intersections of taxiways and active runways.
Where these lighted stop bars are in place, no plane or vehicle is allowed to enter an active runway without positive, verifiable air traffic control clearance. The pilot and tower aren't relying on voice transmissions (decades old technology) at that point. They have positive, active control of movement in the most high-risk area for incursions. Why aren't we giving pilots the benefit of lighted in-pavement guidance such as centerline lights and red stop bar lights?
Superpave. The original research on asphalt pavement mixes was conducted by Bruce Marshall in 1938. The goal was to develop design criteria that would allow quick construction of airfields. The Army Corps of Engineers performed research between 1986 and 1995 to develop an improved mix design procedure. In 1998, the Federal High-way Administration completed verification testing and this new improved Superpave specification is now in use for highways in all 50 states. Among other benefits, it markedly improves low temperature and high temperature performance of asphalt, which is even more critical for aircraft loading than for truck loading. The new procedure was demonstrated to be significantly better than the Marshall method and American Society for Testing and Materials and the Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials adopted the new mixing and testing procedures.
The current FAA specification still calls for the Marshall method. Airport consultants who want to use Superpave or polymer design mixes have to apply for special approval, requiring them to individually educate and convince local FAA offices of the benefits, which is time-consuming, inefficient, and leads to inconsistencies between FAA regions. Why not push FAA to upgrade its asphalt paving specification to take advantage of these innovations?
Highways. While highways will always have significantly more funding than airports, their industry profits from standardization. Every-thing they can standardize, they do, from retention pond details to selection and contracting processes, which are very efficient and straightforward compared to airports. Can we learn from the highway industry to better organize and maximize funding for airports?
FAA Rulemaking. FAA has to publish minimum standards. Gener-ally, that's because they must enforce the same standards for airports across the country with very different physical situations. FAA encourages airports to do more than the minimum but, if an item isn't required by the minimum standards, it's usually not eligible for FAA funding. Hence, we tend to keep building minimum facilities.
Can we offer FAA a rationale to publish more split guidelines that distinguish situations where greater need and greater FAA financial support are warranted?
For example, FAA will never make advanced lighting systems a standard - they know there is insufficient funding available to install this technology nationwide. And, there are local situations where it's not an appropriate technology. Is there a way to require advanced airfield lighting systems for certain airport situations and not others, so that federal funding can be obtained?
We need to return to getting performance specifications from above and developing progressive, detailed "how to" at the local level, and we must do it quickly.