What It Takes To Build a Hangar

Aug. 24, 2023
Q&A with GMC Regional Vice President and Resident Aviation Architecture Expert Steve Jernigan on decision-making processes when it comes to FBO and MRO hangar needs.
Steve Jernigan
Steve Jernigan

There are many things to take into consideration when it comes to building a hangar for an FBO or MRO. What types of materials should be considered? How large should the facility be? What is the goal for the facility? What types of operations will take place within the facility?

All of these questions are essential in making sure the facility is designed to meet the needs of the day-to-day operations and not the other way around.

Goodwyn Mills Cawood Regional Vice President and Resident Aviation Architecture Expert Steve Jernigan spoke with Airport Business to give some helpful advice on decision-making processes when it comes to hangar needs; the goals, design challenges and the aspects of the space that are the most important to business and best practices in making informed choices on building these facilities. 

AB: When starting a hangar project for an FBO or MRO, how do you determine what needs are the most essential in building an appropriate hangar and what needs should be taken into consideration?

Jernigan: The very first thing you would think about is the size of the aircraft and the number of aircraft that they need to hang. That's going to really drive really the depth and size of the building itself and also what the clear height is because that really starts to drive the design, because the tail heights of the aircraft, you don't only have to take into account the structure itself but anything hanging from the structure. Light fixtures, fans, fire sprinkler, piping, anything like that, you've got to take into account to make sure that you clear any of those items and make sure that they clear the tail height of the particular aircraft.”

AB: What advice do you have for hangars being used for maintenance versus storage?

Jernigan: “Those are very different uses. For example, if you've got a storage hangar, it's a lot easier to kind of play puzzle maker and put the aircraft in there, but you got to think about, ‘Okay, when does this aircraft need to move? When does this one need to come out?’ It's always a challenge because moving aircraft around, just the potential of any damage to the aircraft, especially the wings or the tail surfaces is horrendously expensive and a major insurance claim that you really don't want to deal with. That's why typically on a hangar versus a normal building, you really have very, very large clear spans to maximize the clear space within the structure, but also to eliminate that risk of hitting a column that might be in the middle of the building somewhere.”

AB: Are there different rules and codes if you're just storing aircraft versus if you're doing maintenance?

Jernigan: “If you're doing maintenance, there are a lot of additional fire protection requirements, even to the point of needing to remove all of the fuel from the aircraft while any maintenance is going on. It's how close the aircraft can be parked to any outside wall or a structural member. Any electrical items such as receptacles, light fixtures, have to be, if they're within a certain distance of an aircraft, have to be explosion proof, all kinds of UL listings just to make sure that in case there is an incident that you're able to control that and you don't have an out of control fire.

You might get into foam fire suppression, which is a very, very controversial subject right now. In fact, the PFAS foam, which has been used in aviation facilities for many years has been banned in California and other states are looking to ban it. And insurance requirements are such that most users are getting away from any type of foam fire suppression system. So, what we do is we bring in specialty fire protection engineers who specialize in hangars to help us with the design.”

AB: How do you go about hiring an architectural and engineering team that understands the codes and requirements of the hangar?

Jernigan: “You don't want to just hire your friend who's an architect just because you know them. You really need somebody who understands the codes. Hangars are governed by a specific code by the NFPA, National Fire Protection Association. It's their NFPA 409, it's the code that governs both storage and maintenance hangars. So, get somebody on your team who really understands the code.

It's also important to have a contractor, get a contractor on board who understands large span buildings, especially with high hazard fire protection systems. There are a lot of contractors out there who are very, very experienced in constructing maintenance and storage hangars. So that's one of our recommendations we always make to our clients is, let's interview several contractors and find the ones who understand this type of building. Just because they built a hotel or a university building doesn't mean they have the expertise or the crews to build a hangar project.”

AB: What other best practice advice do you have for FBOs and MROs looking to build a hangar?

Jernigan: “Another thing is to know what's your market. What is the size of aircraft that you need to accommodate? It doesn't make sense to design for the absolute largest aircraft when it may be very rarely that you have an aircraft of that size, but you also may say, ‘Hey, that's the market that we see, so let's go ahead and bump up the height of the building, the size of the door to accommodate larger aircraft.’ So, knowing the size of the aircraft is important.”

AB: What are the different options available on the market for building a hangar and what types of materials should an FBO or MRO consider?

Jernigan: “Almost all the hangars that we do are what are called pre-engineered metal buildings. They are manufactured products. So, you have a manufacturer fabricate the structural frame systems, the wall framing systems, metal panel roof, metal panel walls, and even the door systems are all manufactured by one of these pre-engineered metal building companies. And there are quite a few out there who really specialized in aviation facilities. So, they really understand the market.

Any user group who's looking at building, there are a number of options out there. Of course, you still need your architect and engineers to design it. They do the detailed design on the structural system itself, but they don't do anything as far as the general layout of the building. They don't decide what the geometry of the building is, the length and width and clear height inside, or the door sizes, they just react to the information given. So, you still need a qualified architectural and engineering team to provide all the detailed information to the pre-engineered metal building manufacturer.

Also, the other part that makes the pre-engineered system a little more cost-effective is that, because it's a package system, they eliminate a lot of the conflict you would have with multiple vendors. You really just have one vendor to deal with. Supply chain issues are a real problem, especially with conventional steel. Pre-engineered metal buildings seem to be significantly less lead time on trying to get the building components on site than a conventional system would be. It's still pretty long. It's probably double what it was three or four years ago just because of demand, but it's still better than it was.”

AB: What are some of the biggest challenges when it comes to building a hangar?

Jernigan: “I would say two of the real challenges we have would be delivery dates and supply chain and just getting the material and getting it in a timely manner. But the other is cost. Construction costs have gone up significantly in the last three or four years, especially after COVID. And that's really hurt a number of people, especially when you've got a user who knows, ‘Okay, I can get this many dollars a month to hangar a G-450’. Well three or four years ago you could probably build that building for about 50% of what it's going to cost today.”

AB: What are some of the biggest trends that you're seeing in needs or requirements for these FBO and MRO facilities?

Jernigan: “One of the trends is larger aircraft. It seems like in the business jet world, the airplanes just keep getting larger and larger and the older FBOs and maintenance facilities can't handle them because they were designed for the smaller aircraft. So, our clients are very attuned to the fact that they don't want to lose out on that business and to make sure that they can accommodate the larger aircraft. As far as other trends, certainly in the FBO world right now, the higher end, if you think about a high-end hotel lobby, the experience you have and coming into that, that's much more the trend in the FBO terminal world than, previously. Now it's these high-powered business executives coming in so they expect a high level of service.

And another thing too is you've got this quasi-airline business now. They're really not airlines, but they're running larger size charters. So, all of a sudden the FBOs need to be able to accommodate up to let's say 70 passengers. And that's certainly a challenge, to have the passenger screening and waiting and restroom facilities and accommodations to take larger groups of people. It's like a miniature airport terminal.”

About Steve Jernigan: In his role as Regional Vice President for Florida, Steve is responsible for leading business development efforts and providing oversight for all of Goodwyn Mills Cawood’s Florida offices in conjunction with their respective office leader. Steve has earned a reputation as a leader in the architecture industry and with more than 40 years of experience he has been recognized as an industry leader in various capacities, including serving on the American Institute of Architects (AIA) National Board of Directors, AIA Florida Chapter Past-President and AIA Florida/Caribbean Chapter Past Regional Director. He was elected into the AIA College of Fellows in 2011, received the AIA Individual Governmental Advocacy Award in 2010 and was awarded the AIA Florida Gold Medal, the highest honor awarded by AIA Florida, in 2015. Steve was also appointed by the Florida governor to serve on the Florida Board of Architecture and Interior Design, being reappointed for a second term and to serve as vice chair in 2022. He has also served in leadership roles on the Auburn University College of Architecture, Design and Construction Dean’s Advisory Committee, National Association of Industrial and Office Prosperities and Escambia County Housing Finance Authority. Steve graduated from Auburn University with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Design as well as obtained a Bachelor of Architecture.

About the Author

Christina Marsh | Editor

Christina Marsh (Basken) is a passionate aviation enthusiast and sport pilot with industry knowledge and experience in writing and editing for digital and print publications as well as creative content in photography, videography, and podcasting.

Christina graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh with a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a visual emphasis.