Lift is not the issue
More planes bring growth; keeping the airspace, infrastructure in step is the challenge
By John F. Infanger, Editorial Director
The state of the industry is good, as is the mood. Yet, there is a hesitation that is pervasive among those in the airport and aviation service sectors. The goal is to implement important — and contested — changes while continuing to ride the strength of a recession-free economy. We are at a watershed. Survey Results - An Industry Sampler
AIRPORT BUSINESS and Smith Business Solutions, Inc., of Hackettstown, NJ, recently surveyed airports and airport-based businesses. Charts here and on the cover are taken from that data. Below, surveyor Leigh Smith offers a few observations ...
• Airport closure: Is it a non-issue? It’s ranked last in concerns by both airports and FBOs. Economic climate and insurance costs/availability are top issues.
• Insurance coverage is a concern to FBOs, regardless of revenues or employee base. Availabil-ity of insurance is an issue for smaller FBOs, with $250K or less in revenues. As one might expect, flight schools are particularly worried about availability of insurance.
• Economic climate is a universal issue, although avionics shops and aircraft dealers seem to be particularly worried.
• Although we hear much about noise issues at smaller airports, noise abatement is a greater issue at larger airports.
• Experimental aircraft are based at roughly one-half of the airports reporting. What does this mean to airport safety, given the number of "norad" experimentals?
• Over half of FBOs responding pump fuel.
One signal of change is Norman Mineta, who in January took over as head of the U.S. Department of Transportation and, in line, the Federal Aviation Administration. As a U.S. Congressman, Mineta earned a reputation as a legislator who recognized the importance of aviation to the nation, and frequently promoted its cause. His message to date is that under his watch FAA will be able to do what many believe it cannot: modernize the nation’s air traffic control system. It is an effort that has seen millions in taxpayer dollars wasted chasing technology.
Under his watch, he also expects we will have made significant strides, using AIR-21 monies, toward expanding our airport infrastructure, helped along by his initiative to streamline the approval processes. We are now able to fund the runways; getting them built in a timely manner is the next critical element — a priority at today’s DOT/FAA.
That message was reiterated by FAA Administrator Jane Garvey at the annual meeting in New Orleans of the American Association of Airport Executives. Garvey told airport managers that not only will runways be built more expeditiously, but the associated navaids (ILS, etc.) will be up and running at the same time.
At New Orleans, Garvey also said that FAA will soon release its proposal to replace what is today called the "slottery" at New York’s LaGuardia Airport (LGA). FAA and the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey implemented the lottery in an attempt to accommodate the deluge of access requests by airlines following the removal of slots. Intended as a temporary resolution to a long-term problem, the lottery expires this September.
A primary reason Congress lifted the slots at LGA and other major airports was to ensure access to/from smaller communities. Those routes, however, are inherently served by smaller aircraft, confounding the congestion challenge at LaGuardia. At AAAE, Garvey told attendees, "We are very cognizant of the issue of access to smaller communities, as is Congress."
Looking to the future, Garvey says FAA will soon release an "evolution plan" that will discuss agency strategies for the nation’s airspace and aviation infrastructure. It remains a national system, she relates, and local issues come with the territory. "We will never have local consensus," she says, suggesting that leadership at the national and local level is a critical element in resolving local disputes.
Also at New Orleans, Ed Bolen, president of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, told attendees that the general/business aviation sector has grown to a $9 billion a year business. "A strong economy lifts all operations," he says. Much of that strength for business aviation has come from fractionals, which Bolen says account for 15 percent of the business and 30 percent of new business aircraft orders.
As much of industry changes, so is the fractional segment, with the announcement that United Airlines is entering the fold (see page 14). Besides the business implications, the United move will have repercussions on issues such as flight & duty time and access to major airports.
Meanwhile, survey results show a majority of managers optimistic about business prospects, assuming key challenges can be overcome.
Practical Ideas for Airports
William A. Fife, P.E., director of aviation services for DMJM+Harris, says the industry needs to listen more, particularly to each other. Each year he holds Peer Review Group meetings at airports to do just that. Here, he offers some "practical" insights.
• Invite ADA advocates to be a part of early and ongoing planning when designing or improving a facility. "We have to remember that our airports are for everybody," he says.
• When designing facilities, don’t let architects and designers steal the show. Bring in reps from tenants, operations, and maintenance. For terminal re-tailers, this is a common issue.
• Regarding technology, have a specialty systems integrator to tie in fire alarms, security, fiber optics, gates, etc.
• When studying capacity, don’t overlook the impact on infrastructure off-airport.
• The most consistent problem he hears about: restroom design.