Research Projects

Knowledge is Power: Knowledge Management Guidance to Help Airports Thrive In Reserve

Airports need to understand the best ways to preserve institutional knowledge as large scale industry changes occur and both leaders and experienced employees at all levels of the organization are eligible for retirement and leave the airport. Knowledge management and institutional knowledge transfer should be incorporated into all aspects of airports, including the culture, training delivery platforms, and automated systems to support KM to ensure airports can continue to operate effectively.

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

Airports are experiencing unprecedented change, from societal events that impact their operations to high numbers of retirement eligible employees who could leave the airport at any time and take important knowledge and experience with them. Both airport leaders and existing research have indicated that there will be a lack of well-qualified, trained, and/or certified personnel to meet the needs of current and retiring personnel replacements, due in large part to retirements of earlier generations, changing demographics, and the rising demands of airports and airport employees. Further, ACRP's 2018 Thought Leader Forum identified workforce development, and specifically effective knowledge management (KM) strategies for airports, as a key topic for future airports research.

In a time where airports may have reduced resources, both in terms of finances and people, it is imperative to focus on KM. KM involves collecting, organizing, storing, and sharing institutional knowledge. Airports need to understand best practices for knowledge transfer and KM, including how to best share knowledge when key personnel leave the airport and how to manage (e.g., store, access) knowledge that is changing rapidly. Beyond this, airports need to incorporate institutional knowledge transfer into training programs so that trainees can access this knowledge from more experienced personnel in a planned manner.

Further, identifying the best ways to make KM more automatic will ease burden on airports. Automated KM activities will be helpful when there are decreases in workforce numbers, not only because fewer people will be required to implement the strategies, but also because the automation will help to ensure that knowledge is captured before employees leave – this way, if they leave on unfavorable terms (e.g., downsizing, terminated for cause) the airport will not miss out on gathering their knowledge.

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

The objective of this research is to develop user-friendly, easily implementable tools and action plans to support the collection, organization, storage, and dissemination of airport institutional knowledge. Ultimately, this project will provide airports with a guidebook with resources they can use to ensure operational continuity without the loss of important knowledge. The guidebook will also include toolkits, resources, and checklists to aid airport leaders in implementing strategies and automating KM activities.

Approach (Describe in general terms the steps you think are needed to achieve the objective.)

To successfully complete the objectives of this project, research would require the following steps:

  1. Literature Review: Review existing strategies and best practices in knowledge management, automated KM systems, and training that incorporates institutional knowledge transfer.
  2. Airport Data Collections: Conduct interviews and focus groups with airport leaders to better understand current KM challenges and strategies, learn about automated KM capacities, and understand the needs of the industry
  3. Summarize Findings to Date: Create a summary of findings to guide future project activities
  4. Collaborate with Industry Leaders: Work with industry leaders (e.g., AAAE, ACI) to identify resources that can support airports
  5. Select KM Best Practices to Develop for Airports: Identify the strategies and best practices that will be most beneficial to airports as they work to increase KM capabilities
  6. Develop Final Products: Create final products including a guidebook, tools, templates, and resources to support airports in implementing KM strategies.
Cost Estimate and Backup (Provide a cost estimate and support for how you arrived at the estimate.)


This estimate was determined based on numerous previous ACRP and other TRB projects that reviewed workforce needs for the industry and developed strategies to support knowledge transfer. To ensure that the deliverables from this project are able to support airports in implementing successful KM strategies, this project will require in depth research into the types of knowledge that must be included, ways in which other industries have successfully conducted KM activities, careful engagement with industry representatives, and the development of detailed strategies, tools, resources, and communication plans will be required.

Related Research - List related ACRP and other industry research; describe gaps (see link to Research Roadmaps above), and describe how your idea would address these gaps. This is a critical element of a synthesis topic submission.

Related previous research studies include:

  • National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2009. ACRP Report 20: Strategic Planning in the Airport Industry. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
  • National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Thought Leader Forum Summary—Emerging Issues for ACRP. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
  • National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017.TCRP Report 194: Knowledge Management Resource to Support Strategic Workforce Development for Transit Agencies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
  • ACRP Administration and HR Research Roadmap.

While these studies indicate a need for knowledge management in airports and provide example KM strategies and resources from other industries, they do not address the ways in which KM will best be implemented in airports, how airports can incorporate KM into their training or development opportunities, or more automated KM systems to support the gathering and sharing of institutional knowledge. These types of information will be imperative for airports to be able to effectively implement KM initiatives.

Idea No. 496