Research Projects

Best management considerations in evaluating proposed vertical development on or near airports with airspace impacts.

Establish for the end user a process that would assist airport sponsors and the FAA to evaluate whether a development project is a true hazard based on evaluating imaginary and TERPS surfaces, recognizing current conditions at the specific airport. A goal for this project would be to define a process by which the FAA would accept a sponsor lead approval of a design, that may or may not conform to strict interpretations of the local airspace requirements. This problem can provide research in whether protecting for TERPS and OEI emergency procedures would limit building heights around an airport more severely than FAA Part 77 evaluations.

Background (Describe the current situation or problem in the industry, and how your idea would address it.)

Problem Statement

First enacted in 2011, the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) imaginary airport surface requirements pose real threats to on-airport development projects across the nation and result in the unintended consequence of reducing airport access, available hangar capacity for the growing aircraft fleet, and the aviation industry's corresponding economic contributions. All proposed development on public-use property is subject to the FAA's 7460-airport construction (most often airspace) analysis, typically initiated by the regional FAA Airports Division as a non-rulemaking airport case. The current 7460 process is complex and evaluates new construction in a vacuum, failing to consider existing building height conditions, airport sponsor master lease terms, or airport capacity and forecasted demand. While the FAA provides the airport sponsor ultimate authority and local control in design standards, the airport sponsor faces the dilemma of jeopardizing Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grant funding, should the FAA pose an objection to a structure that does not meet standards in the future (i.e. a violation of the grant assurances). The 7460 should be intended to simplify the process for airport sponsors to determine actual and specific height restrictions needed for any proposed structure, taking into consideration Part 77, Terminal Instrument Procedures (TERPS) and One Engine Inoperative (OEI). It must also remove the risk of losing future federal funding faced by airport sponsors that determine a project would not result in potential hazardous effects on air navigation.

 

Background

Airport sponsors have a responsibility to preserve airport access, honor FAA grant assurance requirements, and to ensure safe operations, while encouraging economic optimization on and near airports. Coinciding with these roles, airport sponsors manage, locally, capital improvement planning, update airport master plans and Airport Layout Plans (ALP). These activities can trigger changes in the application of different protective TERPS surfaces, such as the 40:1 departure surface. Such efforts are complicated when the application of those surfaces is done on non-precision runways, or where an airport has other alternatives for airspace protection without universally restricting airport development.

As an airport sponsor communicates the complex relationships between structure heights and protected airspace surfaces, misunderstandings can result in missed economic opportunities. In some cases, the proposed project(s) could be pursued without any actual negative implications to aviation safety. Such missed opportunities may in fact negatively impact an airport's ability to maximize airport development to achieve and maintain airport financial self-sustainability, as required by their own grant assurances.

The most commonly used criteria to determine complicated airport obstacles surfaces are the FAR Part 77 imaginary surfaces, TERPS, and OEI procedures to safely operate. OEI procedures are designed for aircraft to gain sufficient altitude immediately after take-off in the event of a loss of power.

For each obstacle surface there are tradeoffs encountered in the practice between the obstruction penetration and extension of runway, change of flight profile, and allowable aircraft maximum payloads. For the purpose of both aircraft engineering and airport planning, a better understanding of these different obstacle surfaces and their application is important in order to incorporate best management practices to determine maximum height restrictions.

The evolution in larger aircraft, especially at general aviation airports, has created a demand for larger hangars, ramp areas and buildings. Absent determinations that respond to specific safety and navigational impacts, hangar redevelopment projects could be hampered when redevelopment capacity is restricted without further examination of the airport's specific conditions. The FAA determines which structures are obstructions to air navigation but is not authorized to regulate tall structures. Rather, the FAA acknowledges that local authorities have control over the appropriate use of the property, and in many cases the FAA's determination is made absent other contributing factors or considerations. Airport sponsors must be able to make real estate development decisions with confidence that future federal funding would not be compromised should a structure, which is not impeding or restricting current navigation conditions, be otherwise deemed a safety issue based on a national standard. Note: The Federal Register published a revision to Title 14 CFR Part 77, effective 18 January 2011. Previously entitled Objects Affecting Navigable Airspace, Part 77 is now called Safe, Efficient Use and Preservation of the Navigable Airspace.

Airport sponsors are expected to maintain compliance with the FAA grant assurances, and at the same time need to apply strategic thinking to how their airports best preserve aviation operations from encroachments, while maximizing opportunities. It is necessary that airport sponsors communicate and address the consequences to compromising the airport environment by permitting building structures that create an impact to critical areas, or which limit and restrict navigation and TERPS below the current conditions. It is also necessary that airport sponsors address future real estate development on or near their airports, and be able to meet future needs, and consider development opportunities, and their specific impacts and any project alternatives that may be pursued without restricting or limiting aviation safety, navigation, etc. Such determinations should look outside the confines of the national airport design standards, that while applicable, may not provide additional safety protections when specifically applied to any one airport.

Currently, even upon the issuance of a determination of hazard, an airport sponsor can permit a developer to continue construction, subject to other applicable regulatory or building department approvals. However, zoning authorities and airports may be reluctant to move forward with a project, given the FAA's determination of a hazard, even if the hazard identified has distinguishing elements that may not be impactful to protecting the airport environment. If a project continues, Air Traffic Control will mitigate the impact to ensure safety is maintained, and in some cases, this may be an appropriate option. Historically, OEI procedures have not always been considered by the FAA when conducting the aeronautical study; therefore, a project to address this problem state could have a significant impact on whether the integration of the OEI procedures would have a direct impact on height restrictions.

Objective (What is the desired product or result that will help the airport industry?)

This research will establish for the end user a process that would assist airport sponsors and the FAA to evaluate whether a development project is a true hazard based on evaluating imaginary and TERPS surfaces, recognizing current conditions at the specific airport. A goal for this project would be to define a process by which the FAA would accept a sponsor lead approval of a design, that may or may not conform to strict interpretations of the local airspace requirements. While ultimately a policy shift, such an effort would still provide a level of protection for the FAA for an airport sponsor to show conformance. Perhaps through an established performance vs. prescriptive approach for development. Such a process is not uncommon in the entitlement process in other industry's off airport, wherein the approvals follow the intent of the requirements in lieu of the specific requirements. In addition, this problem can provide research in whether protecting for TERPS and OEI emergency procedures would limit building heights around an airport more severely than FAA Part 77 evaluations; and what service limitations would be created if operators must limit fuel/passenger loading in order to meet the OEI requirements over new, proposed structures.

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Idea No. 195