Staffing shortages, bureaucratic inefficiencies are cause for concern
By John F. Infanger, Editorial Director
RENO — With the long battle for airport infrastructure funding over, the challenge begins for accomplishing some $10 billion in improvements. During the recent Airport Planning, Design, & Construction Symposium held here, AIRPORT BUSINESS sat down with Paula Bline, executive director of the Airport Consultants Council, and Faith Varwig, ACC board member and president of Ross & Baruzzini Transportation Services, to discuss challenges AIR-21 presents. Here's an edited transcript.
AIRPORT BUSINESS: At this point, are there any particular aspects of the bill that raise concern?
VARWIG: AIR-21 is such a large bill and there are so many attachments to it that nobody really knows about. I think the push for the year, especially for the ACC, is education on how it's going to affect all of our lives — how we get the money; how it's allocated; the timeframe for spending the dollars; what the dollars can be spent on.
BLINE: The meaning of the provisions isn't necessarily known. The language is in there; the next phase is to determine what they mean and FAA's interpretation.
AB: Any particular examples?
BLINE: Sure. Section 155, entitled ’Competition Plans', requires that beginning in 2001, 15 large hub airports must submit competition plans that include information concerning, for example, the availability of airport gates and related facilities. Because these studies have not previously been required, there is uncertainty concerning, among other things, how in depth they need to be.
Another example is environmental streamlining. There are environmental studies that need to be conducted when airport development projects are coming up. They oftentimes take an extraordinary amount of time.
In addition, regarding the consulting firms involved in environmental projects, some firms also do design work. And, they aren't permitted to compete for the design work unless the environmental project is entirely completed. So, part of environmental streamlining is helping the environmental process so that it takes less time because agencies are more efficient, working more logically together, and also that they don't take as long in the selection process for the design work after the environmental study is over.
VARWIG: Our expectation, though, is that the different FAA regions probably will find it as challenging to become familiar with these provisions as the consultant or airport communities do. Yet those regions are going to be the people that are going to interpret the provisions and the requirements.
It's just like when they enacted FAR 107.14, which is the security requirement. Here we are, years after its initial release, and interpretations of its provisions vary dramatically across the country.
AB: A theme of this conference seems to be, now that we have all this funding coming into the system there may be a shortage of airport consultants. Can you elaborate?
BLINE: It's all the more crucial that the process, the procedures followed, to develop airports be streamlined. FAA has already experienced that significantly in the last ten years. They used to review all the technical drawings of engineers and the plans. I can remember in the ’80s getting a two-page letter of comments on the master plans that I did; design engineers would get the same thing. They don't do that anymore because their technical staff is retired and they've not been replaced. They're administrators of contracts now.
But there will need to be a continuation of the change in procedures in order for AIR-21 and additional money to be efficiently spent. It's not just the money; the real issue is the tremendous need for increased capacity at airports.
Ground Clutter Consulting 101 By Ralph Hood August 2004 In our June issue, Paula Hochstetler, president of the AirportConsultants Council (ACC), was cited as saying that...
Airports, consultants, and government officials again meet for the annual design/build symposium, held in Reno.