Some General Aviation Airports Get Serious about Traffic Counts

WASHINGTON – A critical element in airport forecasting is getting a firm handle on the facility's aircraft traffic.

If the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has a tower at an airport, then it does the counting. However, at general aviation facilities most of the counting is left up to the local operator.

To get a better handle on the methods these GA airport use to tally their traffic, Maria Muia, of the consulting firm Aerofinity, is in the midst of researching the issue for the FAA. At the FAA Forecast Conference, Muia, on Friday presented a preliminary overview of her research.

In the research, Muia found that only seven states conduct independent counts of the traffic at their GA airports. Three states gather the information based on spot surveys over eight weeks of the year. More than a handful of states did not respond to Muia's survey with even the most basic information.

In the preliminary work, Muia found:

  • 34 have used the counts to fill in FAA form 5010.

  • 22 airports use the information for airport development projects.

  • 5 have used the data to justify a FAA tower.

  • 7 have used the data for environment assessments.

  • 11 have used the information for economic impact statement.

  • 6 used the counts for performance reviews.

  • 1 to obtain a GPS beacon.

  • 1 used the information to stay open.
  • In the survey, Muia learned that some airports have been using three different but similar devices to automatically count aircraft traffic.

    Audio recorders marketed by Wilderness System Technology and Larson Davis are keyed to each takeoff. Muia says they record the takeoff noises and the software doubles that count to tally each landing. Neither of these devices successfully captures the sounds associated with an aircraft landing.

    ATR (not the French aircraft builder) markets an audio and video recorder system, she said. That not only records the sound of the takeoff, but the one- or two-camera video system records both takeoffs and landings.