How One Joint-Use Came Together

May 16, 2005
Fort Hood and Killeen, TX combine efforts to create a joint-use airport, billed as the first airport built from the ground up post-9/11.

Killeen (TX) Airport had outgrown its terminal and runway. At the same time, Robert Gray Army Airfield had sufficient space. A partnership was born that has resulted in the first "post-9/11 airport terminal" constructed from the ground up. The new Killeen-Fort Hood Regional Airport represents the first aviation facility to incorporate state-of-the-art security, baggage handling, and more. The airport is blending military use (highly sensitive, highly secure) with civilian use (focused on business and pleasure).

Municipal airports built in the 1950s and 1960s share some common issues: the runways are too short for regional commuter jets and a difficulty accommodating post-9/11 security requirements. Only significant renovation can overcome these challenges, but often this isn't an option. Even if land is available to extend runways and enlarge terminals, surrounding neighborhoods often fight expansion.

Municipalities located near military bases have discovered another option: joint-use. Communities like Killeen, TX are working out partnerships with local military installations to share existing airfield space. Such joint-use agreements involve the lease of land to the municipality to form the civilian airport. In this case, Fort Hood allowed use of 75 acres in the southeast corner of its airfield.

Killeen shares its new airport at Robert Gray Army Airfield with Fort Hood, the largest active duty armored post in the U.S. armed services. The original municipal airport had outgrown its terminal and runway, which at 5,500 feet couldn't accommodate RJs. Killeen faced a loss of commercial airline service and declining economic opportunities, but the partnership with Fort Hood opened up new possibilities.

Of course, first, the military had to be on board. Then, coordination and consultation with numerous governmental agencies is necessary. As with the Killeen-Fort Hood Regional Airport, design considerations also come into play. The municipality built everything for the new airport except the runway. Finally, any airport today must consider new security requirements.

Understanding the problem

One major trend affecting municipal airports is the move from turboprops to RJs. Since 9/11, regional jets and low-cost carriers have been the only growth story in U.S. domestic aircraft fleets. Large jets have dropped from about 58 percent to about 52 percent of U.S. flights (1999-2004), and turboprops have dropped from about 34 percent to less than 20 percent. RJs, however, grew from 8 percent to 32 percent during the same period, according to BACK Aviation Solutions, a commercial aviation research firm.

Nonstop routes served by turboprops have dropped by 52 percent in the past decade. The result of this trend is declining commercial service to municipal airports, many of which, like Killeen, have short runways.

A number of trends have combined to create this perfect storm for municipal airports, according to John Weber, vice president of worldwide sales and services for BACK Aviation, including the following:

  • The impact of terrorism and the increased journey time required for security checks;

  • Changes in security requirements that make it more expensive to operate;

  • The rise of low-cost (jets-only) carriers, which rarely find municipal airports cost effective;

  • The high fares demanded by legacy carriers for small aircraft services from municipal airports.

Project management; coordination

The first step in joint-use projects is consensus-building. These projects have many players, each with their own requirements and rules of engagement, that need to be involved and supportive.

The cooperation of the military is, of course, essential. When the City of Killeen first considered relocating to Robert Gray Army Airfield and sharing it with Fort Hood, leadership on the base vetoed the project. Killeen had few other options and faced decreasing airline service.

When Fort Hood ultimately came to support joint-use, the strong ties between the city and the base were a major factor. "The excellent cooperative relationship between the City of Killeen and Fort Hood communities made joint-use a logical choice for improving local air service," says Don Christian, director of aviation for the City of Killeen.

Once a joint-use project is approved, operational plans need to be worked out for air traffic control, runway maintenance, emergency rescue, and security. Killeen and Fort Hood formed a Joint Management Board (JMB), which created a series of Joint Operating Plans. To improve the financial feasibility of the project, the JMB looked for opportunities for in-kind payment of services for operations. As a result, in exchange for land use, the city is responsible for runway maintenance and grass mowing. The Army provides aircraft rescue and firefighting services for civilian aircraft in exchange for firefighting from the city for selected military housing.

Local, state, federal

In addition to the military, numerous other government agencies and officials must be involved in joint-use projects. These include:

  • Local communities, which need to demonstrate support for the project. If state and federal agencies see that the region is in favor of a project, they are more likely to support and help fund it. For Killeen, 17 Central Texas cities eventually passed resolutions in support of the project.

  • Elected officials, who can demonstrate regional enthusiasm. Killeen worked to involve state and federal elected representatives, providing tours of the region and making the case for joint-use.

  • State and federal road transportation departments, including the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), which comes into play as a city considers road access to the new airport. Often nearby highways need to be expanded and access extended to the terminal. At Killeen, a new highway had to be constructed to provide access to the new airport. The process involved extensive cooperation with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and FHWA. More than 60 parcels of land - as well as Fort Hood property - were required for five miles of new roadway, with only a short amount of time available to obtain it. With TxDOT's involvement in the right-of-way process, the team was successful in obtaining the land it needed in less than a year.

  • State and federal natural resources agencies, which get involved during environmental permitting. All new airports must consider environmental impacts and coordinate with agencies such as FAA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Environmental Protection Agency. However, joint-use projects bring a new set of players to the party. The environmental process at Killeen also involved Fort Hood and the Department of the Army. Each of the agencies came with their own sets of rules and requirements, making the 18-month process particularly complex and mandating the extensive involvement of a team of environmental experts.

  • FAA, which plays a far larger role in joint-use projects than just permitting. FAA must agree to the concept and approve a joint-use airport plan. The agency can also be a valuable source of funding through the Military Airport Program (MAP), which provides funding for joint-use airports developed on active military installations, as well as closed bases. Killeen applied and received $5 million per year for five years.

  • Public support - it can make or break any project. The City of Killeen made a point of interacting with community groups, eventually receiving resolutions from numerous Chambers of Commerce and other regional organizations. Public support can also be critical for roadway expansions, especially right-of-way. For the City of Killeen, a lengthy public involvement process uncovered significant opposition to a road alignment proposed early on that would have required even more land to be taken from property owners. The highway was redesigned with public input. The new alignment extends more onto Fort Hood land, a compromise resolved to avoid taking additional right-of-way and to accommodate public opinion.

Getting to design

Design considerations are the same for any new airport looking to expand:

  • Airside and landside improvements. In this case, since parallel taxiways didn't already exist, an additional taxiway was necessary on the civilian side of the runway. New parking aprons, hangars, fuel farms, and maintenance facilities were also necessary. At Robert Gray, the existing Taxiway B was extended to the south approximately 6,000 linear feet. Different standards for runway/taxiway separation between FAA and the military - with the military locating taxiways farther away from the runway - posed a challenge during design. The military standard was difficult and costly to adopt at Robert Gray, since a sizable hill stood where the taxiway would go. The project team worked closely with Fort Hood, the Army, and the Corps of Engineers on this, and eventually all agreed to the more cost-effective FAA standard.

    In addition, a 45,000-square yard aircraft parking apron was constructed along with three above ground fuel tanks, a general aviation facility, an airport maintenance building, and rental car facilities.

  • Access and transportation. Passengers need a way to get to the airport without going through the base. New roadways would need to be constructed or existing ones expanded. The city worked with TxDOT to upgrade existing Clear Creek Road and Reese Creek Road from a two-lane divided rural roadway to a four-lane divided urban highway. Additional right-of-way was obtained at the main entrance of the airport to allow for a grade-separated intersection in the future.

Redesigning for security

New terminals have one advantage over existing facilities: They can incorporate security from the ground up. Terminal design for Killeen was some 90 percent complete on 9/11. The design was put on hold and every element of the terminal was reconsidered and many features redesigned. Discussions were held with FAA and the newly formed Transportation Security Administration (TSA) on new guidelines, many of which were still under discussion. Building security and building structural integrity would dominate the discussion.

To determine how structurally sturdy a terminal building needs to be, architects and engineers can turn to blast analysis experts who create and test 3-D computer models based on varying parameters. Killeen sought blast analysis to look at the existing building design structure and exterior. As a result, the entire frame was strengthened and exterior materials reinforced.

Terminal building windows also received special consideration. Window frames were strengthened and alternative window materials were used in the final design. Every window is different based on the load to which it is exposed.

Blast analysis also can help determine the proper distance between public parking areas and the terminal, working to achieve the right balance between safety and passenger convenience. Killeen was able to mitigate the 300-foot rule by performing numerous blast analysis tests. The ultimate structural redesign of the building allowed the city to locate the parking area so that an elevated terror threat would not impact public parking.

For baggage screening, new terminals have the advantage of a space that is specifically designed for in-line systems. Killeen's terminal includes baggage handling conveyors that circulate bags from ticket counters to a common explosives detection machine and then to a bag claim carousel, where individual airlines claim the luggage to be carried on their flights.

For space to accommodate TSA's needs, Killeen consulted with the security staff at Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport, U.S. Customs, and researched what other countries such as Israel provide. The result was an additional 10,000 feet of interior space, with three holding cells, a containment room, an armory, kennels for bomb-sniffing dogs, a conference/break room, and office space.

Economic impact of joint-use

Key to the success of any joint-use project is early coordination with all of the players involved. A sense of cooperation can go a long way toward clearing hurdles.

The Killeen-Fort Hood Regional Airport opened in August 2004. In addition to offering commercial air service to the region, the airport will provide significant economic benefits. The estimated annual economic impact of the regional airport includes 824 permanent jobs, $48 million in increased gross product, $30 million in increased personal income, and $30 million in increased retail sales.

The joint-use solution has the potential to meet many of the challenges facing municipal airports.