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AIRPORT DESIGN Last modified on September 26, 2016

All about the airfield

Crawford, Murphy & Tilly’s Craig Louden reflects on how US airports can navigate new FAA design standards that could potentially impact on the long-term development plans for their airfields.

With last summer’s roll out of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Runway Incursion Mitigation (RIM) programme, it is apparent that a focus on airfield safety at US airports remains a priority. 

The now complete Runway Safety Area (RSA) programme and the FAA’s significant rewrite of the Airport Design Advisory Circular (AC) 150/5300-13A in 2012 were initial steps that illustrate the strategy to place more emphasis towards airfield safety. 

The result is an agency shift in priorities for planning and capital improvement programming that can have profound impacts on some airports that may now be required to make adjustments to their airfield complex in lieu of advancing their own locally driven capital initiatives. 

While the FAA’s specific treatment of the new programme and standards may vary somewhat, nationwide implementation is ongoing and will continue to intensify.

The Airport Layout Plan (ALP) is the shared planning tool used by the FAA and the airport sponsor to depict both existing facilities and planned development for an airport. 

The FAA requires regular updates to the ALP. Indeed, so much has changed in recent years that those ALPs completed before 2012 are based on methodologies and trends no longer considered viable. 

Now, more than ever, you should be taking a closer look at the FAA’s new standards and programmes by revisiting your airport’s ALP. What follows is a summary of policies and trends that could drive your airport’s future development plan.


13A, RIM and FAA’s data driven approach to airport planning

The FAA’s focus on safety led to a substantial revision to the Airport Design AC 150/5300-13A in late 2012. While the AC contains new aircraft classifications and new taxiway fillet design methodologies and geometries, the most impactful guidance to holistic airport planning is the utilisation of geometric factors in airfield design to increase situational awareness and reduce runway incursions. 

Specific points of emphasis include the following: avoiding wide expanses of pavement; reducing the number of runway crossing locations; avoiding ‘high energy’ intersections (intersections in the middle third of the runway); increasing visibility, making runway/taxiway or taxiway/taxiway intersections right angles for maximum visibility; avoiding “dual purpose” pavements, where runways are used as taxiways; and avoiding direct access, not designing taxiways to lead directly from an apron area to/across a runway.

When these criteria for geometric standards are applied to existing airfields it is not unheard of for some larger airports to have more than 40 non-compliant locations.

In what will be their next long-term airport development initiative, in May 2015, the Runway Incursion Mitigation (RIM) programme was unveiled, followed by the first RIM grants being issued in September 2015. 

While currently focused on an initial group of airports, RIM reveals how the FAA will be leveraging its own data in guiding the planning decisions for airports. The process allows historic runway incursion data to overlay the airport diagram to determine a correlation between ‘hotspots’ or other areas of complex geometry and runway incursions. 

In the short-term, it is anticipated that the FAA’s next steps will continue to include evaluating priority locations, determining mitigation options and recommending improvements. Longer-term actions will include developing improvement schedules and budgets, and initiating additional projects.

The FAA’s ability to make these assessments is supported by their Airports GIS (AGIS) driven data submittal requirements released in 2007. These include ACs 150/5300-16A, 17C and 18B. 

The documents have fundamentally changed the manner in which airport planning deliverables are prepared and submitted. It also allows the FAA to be better informed and proactive in addressing its own priorities on your airport.


An emphasis on mitigating complex geometry

Given the increasing trend in the FAA’s emphasis towards safety priorities, US airports have genuine concerns that they may lose some of their control over their own planning and capital improvements programming. 

Your priorities for federally funded projects, such as maintenance, land acquisition or capacity improvements can be delayed as Airport Improvement Program (AIP) entitlement or discretionary funds are reallocated to complex geometry mitigation.

An approach to planning that is both proactive and holistic can help you get a handle on the issues and develop a strategic roadmap that addresses complex geometry issues that meet the FAA’s intent, while also preserving vital airport goals. 

Such a planning process can leverage new criteria and programmes to yield opportunity for the sponsor to comply with this criteria, while still advancing its own individual agenda. In the end, the airport maintains control of its programme and its future.

A prime example of Crawford, Murphy & Tilly’s (CMT’s) innovative approach to planning is the ALP update for Lexington Blue Grass Airport where the new criteria has been leveraged to the gateway’s benefit.


Lexington Blue Grass Airport 

On the heels of two major programmes to expand the airfield and terminal facilities, CMT was selected to lead a Master Plan and ALP update for the Kentucky airport, which were focused on remaining ancillary items. 

During the planning process the FAA came out with its new AC 150/5300 13A directive. We recognised that the challenges of the new criteria would require addressing complex geometry issues in the vicinity of the airport’s terminal area. 

And while this could have been a temporary setback in the airport’s overall programme, we identified an opportunity to leverage the new criteria to not only meet the FAA’s new requirements, but to also maintain projects that had long been on the airport’s own priority list within the five-year Capital Improvement Program (CIP).

CMT formulated the process into a $60 million Taxiway Safety Enhancement Plan that not only enhanced safety through the relocation and expansion of several taxiways, but also opened the door for the relocation of the airport’s maintenance complex and the construction
of a new and expanded Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting (ARFF) facility, both of which were out-dated and in need of replacement. 

The plan creatively leveraged newly published airport design standards, non-conforming airfield areas, airfield capacity needs, and air traffic control tower support to increase federal funding eligibility to its maximum permissible participation levels, saving the airport sponsor millions of dollars in local funds. 

CMT provided project justification and FAA co-ordination to enable the airport sponsor to advance the project as their top development priority and receive a commitment of over $25 million in federal discretionary funds. This multi-year programme is now under construction.

This outcome underscores the importance of a proactive response to FAA criteria. It avoids a reactive predicament that can interrupt capital schedules and budgets.

A value-driven airport planning approach can keep an airport ahead of the curve in addressing FAA’s priorities for airfield safety. 

Such an approach can help an airport preserve a level of control over its programme and might, in some cases, convert setbacks into opportunities. In the end, it requires a holistic perspective, a collaborative style and the experience of how to leverage design criteria to the airport’s benefit.

A lot has changed in the last three years. If your ALP hasn’t been updated recently, perhaps it’s time to blow off the dust and have another look?


About the author
Craig Louden is an aviation engineer and project manager with Crawford, Murphy & Tilly, Inc (CMT). He can be contacted at 

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