Value of Airport Planning

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If you’ve been in the aviation industry for any length of time, you’ve probably heard horror stories where airports had to address issues such as a building constructed in the way of proposed airside development, a home or building inadvertently built within a Runway Protection Zone, or non-compatible construction that occurred on an airport that required substantial cost to correct. Most often, these issues can be avoided with proper planning to serve the needs of a community. Situations like these cause airport plans to evolve and change, resulting in lost airport functionality, additional community impacts, and increased project costs. Sound airport planning puts the airport on track for success.

Planning Studies
Federally-obligated airports are required to keep their Airport Layout Plan (ALP) current by depicting existing and future facilities. Projects must be shown on the ALP to be eligible for FAA funding. Planning involves more than depicting facilities on an ALP, it also involves documenting the underlying rationale and implementation of those plans. Every airport has different needs. Proper planning allows your projects to move ahead by being feasible, fundable, and publicly acceptable. 

All planning studies should be tailored to the needs of your airport; complete airport master plan studies are not always needed. Targeted master plans are eligible for FAA funding and allow you to focus on specific airport development needs. An example is to study a near-term apron expansion including justifying the project for FAA funding. Each planning study typically results in modifications to the ALP.

Planning studies also must meet current FAA requirements. Some of the changes in the last several years include FAA aeronautical surveys, Exhibit ‘A’ Airport Property Inventory Maps, recycling and solid waste plans, project justification documentation, and FAA Standard Operating Procedures (SOP). We recommend discussing requirements with your FAA Program Manager if you are considering a planning study.

Airport needs tend to evolve rapidly. We find the most successful airport planning studies focus on addressing airport needs within the next 5 to 10 years, yet have a vision for the ultimate airport development and flexibility to react to changes in the needs. These plans meet project justification thresholds and have realistic phasing and funding plans.

Why Invest in Airport Planning? 
Airport planning facilitates the creation of a vision for the airport within the community. It provides a “road map” to the future, but also develops a “manual” for how you are going to achieve your goals. The process facilitates discussions between airport, community, and agency stakeholders which may not happen otherwise. This collaboration provides valuable input and determines if your airport plans are acceptable. 

Planning studies identify problems to solve and opportunities to pursue, including funding and timing of major airport improvements to meet safety, preservation, or capacity needs. It helps you to resolve issues and provides a basis for defendable decision-making. Your plan should conform with FAA airport design standards, identify facility needs, and document your preferred development balancing operational, environmental, and fiscal impacts. These studies allow your airport to “tell the story” to identify airport development priorities.

An outcome to a successful study is to provide implementable solutions for your airport. This information helps you to secure financial support for your development plan. These studies also support integrating airport planning into community planning for compatible land use around airports. 

FAA requires current planning documents to justify project funding. Studies that are not reflective of the current aviation environment at your airport may create unrealistic expectations of airport development project needs and timing. Airports that do not have up-to-date plans are less competitive for coveted FAA discretionary funds. 

Finally, making poor decisions on your airport is expensive. What is it worth not to build in the wrong spot that limits your airport’s potential?

Every airport has different needs and securing FAA funding is challenging. Airport planning provides you with the means to identify feasible, fundable, and flexible projects and justify them for funding. 

From new airports to runway extensions and hangar development, KLJ has completed dozens of airport planning studies in support of airport improvements at general aviation and commercial service airports. For more information about our airport planning services, please contact Tom Schauer, Director of Aviation Planning Services at