Inside the Fence

April 14, 2005
While sustaining the system for the long term is a goal growing in significance, what is it we're going to sustain?

While sustaining the system for the long term is a goal growing in significance, what is it we're going to sustain? Oh, and then there's the EPA...

At this year's annual Airport Planning, Design & Construction Sym-posium in Reno, the theme, the topic du jour, the underlying current was...sustainability.

Essentially in everything we do as it relates to airports. It's the new business buzzword. It's more a concept, actually, and for airports and aviation it means asking two questions:

1) How do we determine what of all that we have in place today is worth keeping, and how do we sustain it?

2) How do we build better facilities, systems, and processes that, in the long term, are sustainable? Ones that are more environmentally friendly (both for the overall ecosystem and the individual worker) and more cost-efficient over the next ten to 20 years.

They're good questions. And it seems they directly relate to what's going on in the airport services arena, a natural hot topic for the NATA Convention in Las Vegas, part of the overall Aviation Industry Week. Two things stand out: FBO leaseholds are more and more being bought up by outside investors - much like the rest of U.S. business; and, airports are reevaluating what their role should be when it comes to providing airport services. Concerning the latter, the issues are: perceived revenue opportunities; control over ramp and airfield activities; and, sustaining FBO services, at least at the smallest airports.

A natural question is, what is the sustainable FBO model? History suggests the mom-and-pop is gone; the World War II birds have flown away. Do ?outside investors' imply long-term sustainable interest in aviation?

Meanwhile, we have a U.S. Congressman trying to make it a federal mandate that if you build a hangar, you get a 75-year lease. At a time when airports want the feds out of their economic shorts, does this make sense to anyone? At a time when outside investors are becoming the names on the actual local airport leaseholds, does it make sense to guarantee 75 years on a lease that will be bought and sold - for lack of a better term - on Wall Street? If sustainable is the question, here's one place to ask it.

And, finally, there's the EPA. In light of some recent decisionmaking, a legitimate question might be: Is this agency sustainable?

Refuelers on airports now need secondary containment when parked. (Seems having the truck parked right outside the line service window was a much better safeguard.) A refueler in your neighborhood is safe; one on the airport could burst spontaneously.

Thanks for reading.