Airports and airport systems
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1 Airports and airport systems:
Outline • Introduction
• Airports in the United States—An overview
• The national administrative structure of airports
• Airport management on an international level
• The National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems
• Commercial service airports
• General aviation airports
• Reliever airports
• The rules that govern airport management
• Organizations that influence airport regulatory policies
Objectives The objectives of this section are to educate the reader with information to:
• Discuss the ownership characteristics of airports in the United States and internationally.
• Describe the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS) and its application to categorizing public-use airports in the United States.
• Describe the governmental administrative organizations in the United States that oversee airports.
• Identify federal regulations and advisory circulars that influence airport operations.
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4 Airports and airport systems: An introduction
Introduction It is often said that managing an airport is like being mayor of a city. Similar to a city, an airport is comprised of a huge variety of facilities, systems, users, workers, rules, and regulations. Also, just as cities thrive on trade and com- merce with other cities, airports are successful in part by their ability to suc- cessfully be the location where passengers and cargo travel to and from other airports. Furthermore, just as cities find their place as part of its county’s, state’s, and country’s economy, airports, too, must operate successfully as part of the nation’s system of airports. In this chapter, the airport system in the United States will be described in a number of ways. First, the national airport system, as a whole, will be described. Next, the various facilities that make up the airport system will be described. Finally, the various rules and regulations that govern the airport system will be described.
Airports in the United States—An overview The United States has by far the greatest number of airports in the world. More than half the world’s airports and more than two-thirds of the world’s 400 busiest airports are located in the United States. There are more than 19,000 civil landing areas in the United States, including heliports, seaplane bases, and “fixed-wing” landing facilities. Most of these facilities are privately owned, and for private use only. Such facilities include helipads operated at hospitals and office buildings, private lakes for seaplane operations, and, most common, small private airstrips that accommodate the local owners of small aircraft operations. Many of these facilities are nothing more than a cleared area known as a “grass strip.” Never- theless, they are recognized and registered as civil-use landing areas and are, at least, operationally part of the United States system of airports.
There are approximately 5,200 airports that are open for use to the general public, nearly all of which have at least one lighted and/or paved runway. Of the 5,200 public-use airports in the United States, approximately 4,200 are pub- licly owned, either by the local municipality, county, state, or by an “authority” made up of municipal, county, and/or state officials. The remaining 1,000 are privately owned, by individuals, corporations, or private airport management companies (Fig. 1-1).
A few states, notably Alaska, Hawaii, and Rhode Island, own all the airports within the state, operating as a broad airport system. The federal government used to operate airports, including Ronald Reagan Washington National Air- port and Washington Dulles International Airport, but ownership has since been transferred to an independent public authority known as the Metropoli- tan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA). Many airports in the United States were originally owned by the federal government, specifically the military, as they were created for military use during World Wars I and II. Since then, many
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such airports were transferred to local municipal ownership. The transfers of most of these airports were made with provisions that permit the federal gov- ernment to recapture its interest under certain conditions and also to review and approve any transfer of formal federal properties destined for nonairport use. Approximately 600 civil airports have these encumbrances. In addition, Army, Air Force Reserve, and National Guard units operate out of many civil airports, usually under some type of lease arrangements. These airports are known as joint-use civil-military airports.
The vast majority of the public-use civil airports in the United States, whether publicly or privately owned, are actually quite small, each serving a very small portion of the nation’s number of aircraft operations (takeoffs and landings) and even a smaller portion of the total number of commercial air transportation passengers. Much of the activity that occurs at these airports includes opera- tions in small aircraft for recreational purposes, flight training, and transporta- tion by individuals and small private groups. Although most of the flying public rarely, if ever, utilizes many of these airports, the smaller airport facilities play a vital role in the United States system of airports (Fig. 1-2).
Airports are often described by their levels of activity. The activity, services, and investment levels vary greatly among the nation’s airports. The most common measures used to describe the level of activity at an airport are the number of passengers served, the amount of cargo carried, and the number of operations performed at the airport.
The number of passengers served at an airport is typically used to measure the level of activity at airports that predominately serve commercial passengers traveling on the world’s air carriers. Measuring passenger activity provides air- port management with information that will allow for the proper planning and management for facilities used by passengers, including passenger terminals, parking garages, gate areas, and concessions.
Figure 1-1. Number of existing and proposed airports by ownership and use (January 2008). (Figure courtesy FAA)
5,190 Open to Public
4,150 Public Owned
1,040 Private Owned
14,625 Closed to Public
19,815 Total U.S. Airports
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6 Airports and airport systems: An introduction
Specifically, the term enplanements (or enplaned passengers) is used to describe the number of passengers that board an aircraft at an airport. Annual enplanements are often used to measure the amount of airport activity, and even evaluate the amount of funding to be provided for improvement projects. The term deplanements (or deplaned passengers) is used to describe the number of passengers that deplane an aircraft at an airport.
The term total passengers is used to describe the number of passengers that either board or deplane an aircraft at an airport. At many airports, the number of total passengers is roughly double the number of annual enplanements. How- ever, at airports where the majority of passengers are transfer passengers, the number of passengers is more than double the number of enplanements. This is because transfer passengers are counted twice, once when deplaning their arriving flight, and then again when boarding their next flight. Because of this distortion, passenger volumes are not often used to estimate passenger activity at an airport, although the largest airports serving as airline hubs often use the passenger volumes to advertise their grandeur. To remove this bias, most official measures of airport passenger activity are given in terms of enplanements.
Cargo activity is typically used to measure the level of activity at airports that handle freight and mail. Airports located near major seaports, railroad hubs, and
Figure 1-2. Many airports are no more than private grass strips. (Photo by Seth Young)
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large metropolitan areas, as well as airports served by the nation’s cargo carriers (such as FedEx and UPS) accommodate thousands of tons of cargo annually.
The number of aircraft operations is used as a measure of activity at all air- ports, but is the primary measure of activity at general aviation (GA) airports. An aircraft operation is defined as a takeoff or a landing. When an aircraft makes a landing and then immediately takes off again, it is known as a “touch and go” and is counted as two operations. This activity is common at many GA airports where there is a significant amount of flight training. When an aircraft takes off and lands at an airport without landing at any other airport, the air- craft is said to be performing local operations. An itinerant operation is a flight that takes off from one airport and lands at another.
Another, albeit, indirect measure of airport activity is identified by the number of aircraft “based” at the airport. A based aircraft is an aircraft that is registered as a “resident” of the airport. Typically, the owner of such an aircraft will pay a monthly or annual fee to park the aircraft at the airport, either outside in a designated aircraft parking area or in an indoor hangar facility. The number of based aircraft is used to indirectly measure activity primarily at smaller airports where private “general” aviation is dominant. At airports that primarily handle the air carriers, relatively few aircraft are actually based.
Operations and based aircraft are measures of activity that influence the plan- ning and management primarily of the airside of airports, such as the planning and management of runways, taxiways, navigational aids, gates, and aircraft parking areas.
In general, airport management measure the activity levels of their airports on the basis of all levels of passenger, cargo, operations, and based aircraft activity; virtually all airports, especially the largest airports in the nation, accommodate passengers and cargo, as well as air carrier and private aircraft operations.
The national administrative structure of airports All civil-use airports, large and small, in one way or another, utilize the United States’ Civil Aviation System. The civil aviation system is an integral part of the United States’ transportation infrastructure. This vital infrastructure is adminis- tered through the United States Department of Transportation (DOT), led by the secretary of transportation (Fig. 1-3).
The DOT is divided into several administrations that oversee the various modes of national and regional transportation in the United States. Such administra- tions include:
FHWA—The Federal Highway Administration
FMCSA—The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
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