A Tool for Planning

Oct. 26, 2007
FAA wants airports to use its planning software — it promises to keep it updated.

FAA wanted this ink. The Federal Aviation Administration contacted AIRPORT BUSINESS to get the word out that it is making significant investments in free planning software available for airports and industry to predict the impact of change on operations. As a result, we interviewed Charles R. Everett, Jr., the manager of the National Planning and Environmental Division of the Office of Airport Planning and Programming, and Lori Pagnanelli, a senior airport planner in the same division.

The agency’s airports planning division is responsible for projects that include the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS); guidance for master planning and system planning; and in recent years has spearheaded the studies known as FACT 1 and FACT 2 that looked at future airport bottlenecks in the U.S. aviation system.

Following are edited excerpts of our conversation with FAA ...

AIRPORT BUSINESS: About what specifically do you want to get the word out?

Everett: One of the things that we have supported in recent years is the airport and airspace simulation model, which is being maintained and developed by FAA. Something we’re excited about is, given our existing conditions increasing demand, there are tools out there available for airport operators to consider the impact of proposed airport improvements, prior to progressing with the improvement.

They can look at the project and determine the impact and what delay-reduction benefit that project might have.

We are reinvesting in the simulation model. One thing we’ve been doing since 2004 is — the technical center in Atlantic City actually hosts this process — we have been funding the maintenance and development of the software package through the Airport Improvement Program.

It’s one of the tools that we use, and we make it available to the entire industry to determine the impact of proposed improvements.

AB: How exactly do you make it available?

Everett: We distribute it free through the technical center, and it can be sent electronically to anyone who wants to use it. Then they can adapt it to whatever airport they want to model.

The software had been around since the mid-1980s, but for awhile there was no funding available to keep the software upgraded. So, there was a period when others in the industry took the lead in that area.

Since 2004, we’ve made a significant investment in bringing that software package current and making sure it’s updated. If an airport wants to use it, they can call and have the tech center send it to them.

AB: Are there particular capabilities that an airport needs to use and manage it?

Pagnanelli: The FAA provides them with the engine. Within that engine, they can input various information from that airport, and then that engine will run that airport model. Software is the engine part of it; there’s no graphics that go along with it. The model will provide outputs for delays on taxiways or other types of operations.

If they want to see it on a screen with a visual, then they would have to go and purchase other software to do that. But they can run the model itself and get the answers without any additional software.

AB: What utilization do you currently see by airports?

Pagnanelli: At this point, some of the large air carrier airports are using it. For example, BWI just did Phase 1 of their master plan; they hired Landrum & Brown, which used that model along with air traffic control and most of the airlines involved to determine where some of the capacity needs were. They’re just finalizing that particular analysis.

We’ve also seen it used at Denver. The tech center actually did modeling at Denver. One specific example was the deicing concern there and delays; so they looked at where to put in a new deicing pad. A new pad was developed based on the results of the model.

Everett: It has such capabilities. You can look at your airfield, your runways, taxiways, the apron area, and the associated terminal airspace and you can determine what value or lack of value a potential project will have on reducing delays on your airfield. It’s a key question a lot of airport operators and airlines have.

A piece of software like this can save you a lot of money.

Pagnanelli: Also, we will take questions from any user at any time. If a consultant or airport is modeling a specific situation and the model doesn’t quite work for that situation, they can contact the tech center and then they will correct it or make a modification with the engine so that it will work. It’s an ongoing process; it’s all free of charge to the public.

There are unique situations at all airports, the way their operations flow. So it’s a way of getting that model tweaked with the tech center’s expertise.

Everett: It’s not just for projects or planned improvements, but also operationally. For example, one of the things that the model does is it looks at the schedules, arrivals and departures. It simulates those on the airfield. If a tenant is looking at an operational improvement or a change in operations, they can also consider the impact of that.

AB: So, is there a benefit for an FBO or other airport-based business in using the software?

Everett: Only to the extent that they have a lot of activity on the airfield. If we’re talking about a place like Teterboro or Van Nuys where there might be an FBO with a large percentage of the activity, I would say then it might be fruitful. But a lot of the time at a major airport like a Chicago or Atlanta, the percentage of activity is not that great, so it would be more beneficial to an air carrier or the airport operator.

One example: If an airport operator is contemplating building a new taxiway, and the airport has already put together a simulation model, the FBO could work with the operator and ask, ‘What’s the impact of this taxiway on our operation on this portion of the airfield?’
It can be very useful if you’re reconfiguring the airfield in some way — the amount of time it takes an aircraft to taxi; what the fuel consumption might be.

For information, contact John Zinna at FAA’s William J. Hughes Technical Center: [email protected] or (609) 485-6330.