The Techno Environment


Howwe manage the airport environment is undergoing change

By Sarah Smith, Madison Environmental

June 2000

The electronic and digital revolution occurring worldwide bodes well for the future of environmental management at airports. Here's an analysis of the emerging technologies that will be impacting the airport environment.

The savvy environmental manager should already be online to receive regulatory updates and compliance solutions. The progressive environmental manager should be using an Environmental Management Infor-mation System (EMIS) and Geogra-phic Information System (GIS) to store information, visualize environmental data, and cut costs for data analysis and reporting. The visionary environmental manager should be using sensors that send data through radio waves or phone lines to the EMIS database linked to the GIS to automate and control airport environmental issues.

These technologies are here and will only continue to be developed by those interested in bettering the engineering and science and decreasing the costs of compliance with environmental regulations.

M any airports are in the process of integrating GIS into their operations. The amount of electronic data available on the Web is increasing at exponential rates.

Imagery such as aerial photographs, topographic maps, digital elevation models, wetlands maps, soils maps, geology maps, and hydrologic maps are becoming more available and easily downloaded. These images serve as basemaps and can be layered one on top of the other.

Most airports have CAD maps which can be "georeferenced" (put in the same coordinate system as the other maps) and broken up into layers. Common layers show airport tenant sites, fuel farms and hydrant systems, stormwater pathways, deicing facilities, utilities, and ongoing clean-up efforts.

A basic GIS for most airports can be built for less than $30,000 by experienced consultants. The utility of the GIS can be significantly increased at nominal cost if electronic data regarding the airport already exists.

However, the advancement of Global Positioning System (GPS) technology enables hundreds of airport features to be added to the GIS in a single day of field work. To achieve this, consultants have developed "data dictionaries" specifically for airports to aid in the transfer of features from the GPS unit to the GIS. These data dictionaries are tailored to airport operations and enable multiple "layers" of airport features in the GIS, often with sub-meter accuracy.

Once the GIS is functional, the environmental manager and consultants should be able to prepare tables and figures of environmental data quickly and inexpensively. Most GIS software has "zoom" capability, and using the aerial photographs as a basemap makes an effective communication tool for in-house meetings or regulatory reporting.

Air quality, noise, surface water, and groundwater information can be analyzed spatially by creating contour maps in a fraction of the time conventionally required. While the spatial analysis of data will still require expertise to provide meaningful results, the scientists and engineers can spend their time analyzing the data rather than putting the data into a format that enables the analysis. This GIS tool cuts data analysis and reporting costs and ultimately produces better engineering and scientific solutions.

In addition to two-dimensional graphics, several software packages enable the user to view sites and environmental data in three dimensions. The ability to rotate the site maps around any axis aids in the analysis and communication of data. Seeing what the subsurface geology and groundwater look like can assist the scientists, engineers, administrators, and the lay person alike. In-house, regulatory and public education can be greatly enhanced by this tool.

The EMIS market is also rapidly growing. The ability for different databases to "talk" to each other and the connectivity with GIS and graphics software makes customizing an airport EMIS very simple. Numerous EMIS software is currently being brought to market that enables graphing for "on the fly" trend analysis and creating report-ready tables with the click of a button.

Much like state regulatory agencies that now require electronic data submissions, it is recommended that airports consider requiring contractors and consultants to submit electronic data that can feed directly into their EMIS and GIS. In this way, data from different projects can be combined to give a bigger picture of the environment in general and can significantly decrease the amount of field work on specific projects.

This capability can be an excellent way to analyze the work of different consultants and can serve as a quality control mechanism in general. Suspect data becomes readily apparent when viewed in a graphical two-dimensional and three-dimensional format.

The development of electronic sensors is very promising for the future of environmental management. The collection of continuous data sets for noise, air quality, surface water, and groundwater helps to characterize the environment in a relatively short period of time for less money than historic approaches. One com pany in particular has patented a process that feeds real-time data into a GIS for visualization and modeling of groundwater.

The automation of fuel system operation, stormwater routing, water treatment, and soil and groundwater clean-up becomes possible using this technology. And, changes in designs, operations, or practices can be viewed immediately to see if they are working.

Fuel farms in particular are conducive for these technologies. With tank-level sensors installed in the tanks and line-pressure sensors installed in the piping, the operator has a remote view of the current conditions at the fuel farm.

Some vendors use a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system to view, operate, and store data. Other systems can use the same EMIS and GIS that include other environmental data to manage the fuel farm.

This approach can be especially useful because surface monitoring points and groundwater monitoring wells can be tied into the management of the fuel farm. For example, valves can be operated automatically if line pressures decrease below pre-determined levels or if petroleum is detected at the surface or groundwater monitoring points.

Air and groundwater sensors may change the future of airport remediation projects. Sensors currently on the market include the ability to measure groundwater elevation, temperature, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, petroleum hydrocarbons, and specific ions.

The probes that detect petroleum hydrocarbons can also be used in air. Therefore, "smart" remediation systems are being installed whereby the groundwater pumps and soil vapor extraction blowers are turned up and down automatically to maximize petroleum hydrocarbon or glycol removal. In addition, because the data are recorded continuously and viewed from a remote location, engineering changes can be performed and evaluated in near-real time.

Since the data are loaded into a package that can graph and tabulate the data, the costs of monitoring and reporting can be substantially reduced. An intangible yet significant advantage of this approach also includes increasing the confidence level of the regulators, which often dictate the frequency of monitoring or the clean-up extent.

The EMIS, GIS, and sensors technologies bundle together to form an excellent management tool. Payback of the investment into these technologies can be relatively short when prevention, operation, and implementation perspectives are considered.

It is generally understood that clean-up projects at airports cost significantly more than at other facilities because of the restricted movement, liability, and constant activity at most airports. Therefore, tools that significantly reduce the potential for detrimental releases and prevent large-scale clean-up can pay for themselves very quickly.

Moreover, using these tools should decrease the planning and environmental review costs for upcoming expansion projects. Computer modeling is extremely cheaper and more accurate through "self calibration" using continuous, real-time data. The ability for local residents living near airports to receive graphs of noise data specific to their house should reduce costs associated with managing this issue.

Costs for wastewater treatment and National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitting can be reduced more than enough to pay for the technology. Finally, these technologies enable the evaluation of risk in a streamlined fashion. When environmental data are combined with the weather data collected at airports, a powerful tool is available for compliance with attainment area and other regulatory issues.

About the Author
Sarah Smith is president of Madison Environmental, an environmental consulting firm based in Boxford, MA. She specializes in FBO/airport-related environmental resolution and management. She has managed projects for aviation, petroleum, and industrial interests. Direct questions to her at (978) 352-5086.