Use Airspace Review to Avoid Construction Delays Near Airports

Feb. 18, 2019
How the Federal Aviation Administration’s obstruction evaluation process can be the key to minimizing or avoiding project delays and cost overruns for projects near U.S. airports.

Airports of all sizes, whether they are commercial service, military or general aviation, are economic engines for the communities they serve. Conflicts can arise when development and infrastructure projects in an airport’s vicinity infringe on the airspace and operational requirements of that airport.

While the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has jurisdiction over the U.S. National Airspace System (NAS), the process used to evaluate whether a project near an airport will affect the NAS is often misunderstood, misinterpreted or unknown to developers, planning agencies, designers, contractors and others. FAA has simplified the process determining if a project — even one that is several miles away from an airport — can affect its airspace or not.

Any construction, including antennas, buildings, fences, bridges and roadways — or construction-related equipment, such as cranes and temporary batch plants, can interfere with airspace and be a threat to the safety of civil, military and commercial aviation. This interference could be determined to be a hazard by the FAA.

Project-related activities may also be incompatible with airports in other ways. In many states, failure to obtain airspace or other approvals can cause project permit denial and project delay or even stoppage.

If one does not plan for this approval step, it can be embarrassing and potentially expensive for the project’s bottom line.

Understanding when and who to call to determine if a project is subject to FAA airspace or other reviews can make all the difference.

The Earlier the Better

The FAA has jurisdiction over U.S. airspace and reviews any type of construction or alteration of a structure, or temporary structure, e.g., cranes, that may affect the NAS. This requires the owner or sponsor to notify the FAA by completing the notice of proposed construction or alteration form (Standard Form 7460-1) prior to construction, but preferably in the early design stage, in case project changes are required by the FAA. The FAA defines the sponsor as the person or business ultimately responsible for the construction or alteration, and will appear as the addressee and the client of all correspondence from the FAA. The 7460 can be filed by either the sponsor or a sponsor’s representative, which would be a firm assigned to the project by the client, such as WSP.

FAA review of 7460 submittals can take 45 to 120 days, from initial submittal to determination of whether the proposed project poses a hazard to air navigation. While the minimum review time is 45 days, the FAA does not guarantee that a final determination will be issued on any specific time frame, so the earlier a project is submitted for review, the better.

There are no provisions for waivers or exemptions, so there is no way to shorten or bypass the 7460 process.

Avoiding an FAA Denial

Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) Part 77.13 requires that notice is filed with the FAA prior to construction for any proposed tall construction or alteration, whether permanent or temporary, or near a public-use airport or not, if it is:

  • More than 200 feet in height above ground level at the site.
  • Penetrating an imaginary airspace surface emanating from the edge of the nearest runway at a 100-to-1 slope out to 20,000 feet from that runway. A project may fall into this category even if it is more than four miles from an airport
  • When the project is close to an airport and filing is required to include objects that are mobile, such as a car or truck on a roadway, that will penetrate an airport’s imaginary airspace surfaces. Mobile object heights are assumed based on one of four “roadway” types: private roadway, 10 feet above the elevation of the roadway; public roadway, 15 feet above; interstate highway, 17 feet above; railroad, 23 feet above.

If a proposed project falls in one of the above three categories, designers should evaluate and verify the conditions with aviation experts knowledgeable of the FAA requirements to avoid the risk of a denied permit.

The FAA’s Obstruction Evaluation/Airport Airspace Analysis website contains a notice criteria tool to determine whether notice is required. By entering in a site’s geographic coordinates, site elevation and structure height, the notice criteria tool will provide a preliminary evaluation of the site and whether a 7460 filing is required. If the project is a roadway or railroad project, select the appropriate traverseway option on the form to apply the correct mobile object heights.

What Other Issues May Trigger FAA Reviews?

FAA’s areas of concern that must be evaluated include projects that involve:

  • Smoke/steam obstructing view of runway approaches.
  • Glare to the pilots/control tower, such as from glass buildings or solar panels.
  • Landfills, causing wildlife/bird strikes.
  • Other potential bird attractants, in some areas, this can include storm water ponds with standing water.
  • Reflectivity, such as FAA radar signals impacted by flat vertical surfaces like walls.Smoke/steam obstructing view of runway approaches.

Examples of temporary construction items:

  • Batch plants
  • Construction equipment — single point and mobile areas.
  • Cranes, boom trucks.
  • Concrete pumps.
  • Drilling rigs.
  • Haul routes.
  • Staging areas.
  • Stock piles.
  • Temporary lights.

Getting Expert Help

If a 7460 notice is filed with the FAA properly, and if the project is determined to not cause a hazard to airspace, then construction can be completed as planned and on schedule. Successful form preparation will have virtually no impact on project budgets, and timely project execution will result in higher client satisfaction.

On the other hand, if a notice is not filed in a timely manner — or if it is poorly prepared with insufficient information — the FAA could conclude that a project is a potential or actual airspace hazard. That would lead to delays in the project schedule, significant and unexpected budget cost increases that will require the creation of alternative construction plans. That can lead to client dissatisfaction and possible damage to the consultant’s reputation.

The sponsor of the proposed project must submit the information to FAA, and the handy FAA website makes this convenient. This allows for early exploration of cost-effective alternatives versus just prior to construction, when a fix could be very expensive and cause a major impact to the schedule.

A pre-review also prevents submission of incomplete or unclear information to the FAA resulting in an “automatic” denial in the form of a finding the project to be a “Hazard to Airspace.” Once the FAA issues a negative finding, significantly more work and time is needed to achieve an eventual approval to determine that the project is not actually a hazard.

Through early evaluation and action, we can prevent these avoidable costs and delays from impacting a project. 

Mark Kuttrus, AICP is assistant vice president of Aviation Planning for WSP USA, a global infrastructure strategic consulting, planning, engineering and program/construction management organization. He is based in the firm’s Raleigh office for ten of his 30 years of airport planning experience. Kuttrus was the 2010 Chair of the Airport Consultant Council (ACC) planning committee. He holds a B.S. degree in aviation management from The Ohio State University.