The Vital Role of Electrical Master Planning in Airport Innovation and Resilience

April 16, 2024

Electrical master planning has reached a vital level in airport improvement programs across the world. 

The continued electrification of equipment on and off the airifeld, vehicles and controls has reshaped how airports need to think about how they power their customers and the infrastrcutre it takes to meet the future needs of travelers and airlines.

Garver Aviation Electrical Team Leader Terry Kagler is one of the key industry minds helping airports to think about electrical master planning and the impact it can have on operations. He spoke with Airport Business about the concept and what it means for the future of infrastructure development. 

Airport Business: What constitutes the foundation of an effective electrical master plan for airports?

Terry Kagler: Fundamentally, an electrical master plan for an airport encompasses a thorough assessment of current electrical infrastructures, such as power consumption, forecasting future demands, and identifying avenues for sustainable power generation. This entails not only a snapshot of the airport's present electrical load but also a strategic forecast anticipating growth and technological advancements. For instance, the plan should account for the burgeoning adoption of electric vehicles (EVs), requiring charging stations for passengers and employees alike, and the potential electrification of ground service equipment. A pivotal component is establishing a robust baseline that reflects the airport's current electrical usage across its facilities and operational systems. This includes a detailed analysis of leaseholders' demands and emergency power generation capabilities, crucial for maintaining operations during outages and emergencies.

AB: Why has electrical master planning become a pressing agenda for airports today?

TK: The convergence of available funding opportunities and a growing recognition of the need for resilient infrastructure has thrust electrical master planning to the forefront for airports. On one hand, financial mechanisms such as governmental and environmental grants are incentivizing airports to embark on sustainable and resilience-enhancing projects. On the other, recent history underscores a series of weather-related disruptions highlighting the vulnerability of airports' electrical systems. For example, the winter storms in Texas exposed the critical need for airports to reassess and reinforce their power systems to ensure continuity and safety. These factors combined make a compelling case for airports to proactively develop and implement comprehensive electrical master plans.

AB: With the vast scope of electrification, how is stakeholder consensus achieved in the planning process?

TK: Achieving consensus in electrical master planning involves a multifaceted stakeholder engagement strategy. The planning process mirrors the complexity of an airport ecosystem, involving diverse entities like leaseholders, airlines, service providers, and passengers. A notable example is the consideration of EV charging infrastructure, which requires balancing the expectations and demands of passengers and employees with operational feasibility and potential revenue implications for the airport. Engaging stakeholders early and often in the planning process ensures their needs and perspectives are incorporated, leading to a more holistic and effective master plan. For instance, by consulting with rental car companies and leaseholders, airports can gauge the demand for EV charging stations and plan their electrical infrastructure accordingly.

AB: Beyond the Top 50 commercial airports, should general aviation and small/medium hub airports also prioritize electrification?

TK: Yes, electrification holds significance for general aviation and small/medium hub airports as well, albeit with distinct challenges and scales. These airports must navigate resource constraints and prioritize initiatives that align with their operational scope and strategic objectives. The examples of Little Rock National Airport and Lawrence Municipal Airport's focused approaches to evaluating their EV charging needs illustrates how targeted studies can inform practical electrification strategies, even for smaller airports. This underscores the importance of adaptability and strategic planning in addressing electrification, regardless of an airport's size.

AB: How does electrical master planning bolster resilience against natural disasters?

TK: Resilience planning is a cornerstone of electrical master planning, particularly in light of the increased frequency of extreme weather events. Airports, such as Tampa and Corpus Christi, have integrated resilience measures into their electrical planning to safeguard against natural disasters. This involves assessing vulnerabilities, such as flood risk to electrical infrastructure, and implementing mitigation strategies, like elevating critical equipment or incorporating microgrids. These proactive steps ensure that airports can maintain critical operations during disasters, minimizing disruptions to services and enhancing safety for passengers and staff.

AB: What role do microgrids play in a comprehensive electrical master plan?

TK: Microgrids represent a transformative component within electrical master planning, offering a self-sufficient power generation and distribution system that can operate independently from the main grid. This autonomy is particularly valuable during grid outages, ensuring continuous power supply. Airports exploring microgridsexemplify this trend towards adopting decentralized power solutions to enhance operational resilience and sustainability. Microgrids not only provide a backup power solution but also allow airports to potentially generate renewable energy, contributing to sustainability goals and reducing dependence on external power sources.

AB: Can electrical master planning be conducted in isolation from the general master planning process?

TK: While electrical master planning can technically proceed independently, integrating it with the broader airport master planning ensures alignment with the airport's long-term vision and infrastructure development goals. This holistic approach facilitates coordinated planning across all aspects of airport operations and development, ensuring that electrical infrastructure upgrades are synchronized with overall airport expansion and modernization efforts. Whether updating existing plans or initiating new ones, the integration of electrical considerations into the broader planning framework is essential for creating a cohesive and forward-looking airport strategy.

AB: Regarding the frequency of updates, how often should airports revisit their electrical master plans?

TK: The dynamic nature of technology, coupled with evolving operational needs and regulatory environments, necessitates regular updates to electrical master plans. While there's no one-size-fits-all answer, the pace of change in energy technologies and airport operations often dictates the need for periodic reassessments. These updates allow airports to incorporate the latest technological advancements, such as hydrogen fuel or advanced energy storage solutions, ensuring their electrical infrastructure remains robust, adaptable, and aligned with future demands.

AB: Before embarking on electrical master planning, what considerations should airport leaders weigh?

TK: Airport leaders should start by evaluating their strategic objectives, regulatory requirements, and the specific needs of their airport community. This includes understanding the aspirations of airlines, passengers, and other stakeholders, as well as the potential impacts of electrification on airport operations and services. Engaging with experienced engineers and consultants who can offer insights into the complexities of electrical master planning is crucial. This preliminary assessment helps identify the scope of the planning process, ensuring it is tailored to the airport's unique context and aligned with its long-term vision.

This expanded discourse offers a deeper exploration of electrical master planning within the airport industry, providing detailed insights and examples to illustrate the significance, challenges, and strategies associated with implementing effective electrical infrastructure and resilience measures.


About the Author

Joe Petrie | Editor & Chief

Joe Petrie is the Editorial Director for the Endeavor Aviation Group.

Joe has spent the past 15 years writing about the most cutting-edge topics related to transportation and policy in a variety of sectors with an emphasis on transportation issues for the past 10 years.

Contact: Joe Petrie

Editor & Chief | Airport Business

[email protected]


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