aerospace World

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Key terms
joint-use civil-military airports
transfer passengers
aircraft operations
local operations
itinerant operations
based aircraft
Airports and airport systems: An introduction
Department of Transportation (DOT)
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
Airport District Office (ADO)
International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)
National Airport System Plan (NASP)
National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS)
commercial service airport
primary commercial service airport
standard metropolitan statistical area (SMSA)
large hub
medium hub
small hub
general aviation (GA) airport
basic utility facility
general utility facility
reliever airport
Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR)
Code of Federal Regulations (CFR)
Transportation Security Regulations (TSR)
advisory circulars (AC)

Click here Introduction

Whether privately owned or part of a public system, there are fundamental

characteristics of the administrative and organizational structure of an airport.

The number of people employed at a given airport can range from as few as

one, at the smallest of general aviation facilities, to as many as 50,000 at the

world’s largest airport authorities.

Those airports that employ fewer numbers of people expect these people to

accept a wider range of responsibilities. For example, an airport management

employee at a small airport might be responsible for maintaining the airfield,

managing finances, and maintaining good relations with the local public. At the

larger airports, employees are typically given very specific responsibilities for a

particular segment of airport management.

Airport ownership and operation

Public airports in the United States are owned and operated under a variety of

organizational and jurisdictional arrangements. Usually, ownership and operation

coincide: commercial airports might be owned and operated by a city,

county, or state; by the federal government; or by more than one jurisdiction

(a city and a county). In some cases, a commercial airport is owned by one or

more of these governmental entities but operated by a separate public body,

such as an airport authority specifically created for the purpose of managing

the airport. Regardless of ownership, legal responsibility for day-to-day operation

and administration can be vested in any of five kinds of governmental or

public entities: a municipal or county government, a multipurpose port authority,

an airport authority, a state government, or the federal government.

A typical municipally operated airport is city owned and run as a department

of the city, with policy direction by the city council and, in some cases,

by a separate airport commission or advisory board. County-run airports are

similarly organized. Under this type of public operation, airport policy decisions

are generally made in the broader context of city or county public investment

needs, budgetary constraints, and development goals.

Some commercial airports in the United States are run by multipurpose port authorities.

Port authorities are legally chartered institutions with the status of

public corporations that operate a variety of publicly owned facilities, such as

harbors, airports, toll roads, and bridges. In managing the properties under

their jurisdiction, port authorities have extensive independence from the state

and local governments. Their financial independence rests largely on the

power to issue their own debt, in the form of revenue bonds, and on

the breadth of their revenue bases, which might include fees and charges from


Airport ownership and operation

marine terminals and airports as well as proceeds (bridge or tunnel tolls) from

other port authority properties. In addition, some port authorities have the

power to tax within the port district, although it is rarely exercised.

Another type of arrangement is the single-purpose airport authority. Similar in

structure and in legal charter to port authorities, these single-purpose authorities

also have considerable independence from the state or local governments, which

often retain ownership of the airport or airports operated by the authority. Like

multipurpose port authorities, airport authorities have the power to issue their

own debt for financing capital development, and in a few cases, the power to

tax. Compared to port authorities, however, they must rely on a much narrower

base of revenues to run a financially self-sustaining enterprise.

Since the early 1950s, there has been a gradual transition from city- and

county-controlled airports to the independent single or multipurpose authorities.

The predominant form is still municipally owned and operated, particularly

the smaller commercial and GA airports; however, there are reasons for

this transition:

• Many airport market or service areas have outgrown the political jurisdiction

whose responsibility the airport entails. In some cases there is

considerable, actual or potential, tax liability to a rather limited area. In

these cases the creation of an authority to “spread the potential or actual

tax support” for the airport might be recommended. By spreading

the tax base of support for the airport, more equitable treatment of the

individual taxpayer can result and the taxpayers supporting the airport

in most cases more nearly match the actual users of the facility.

• Another advantage of authority control of an airport is that such an organization

allows the board to concentrate and specialize on airport


A jet engine and a propeller produce thrust by blowing air back. A
helicopter’s rotor produces lift by blowing air down, as can be seen in
Figure 1.1, where the downwash of a helicopter hovering over the
water is clearly visible. In the same way, a wing produces lift by diverting
air down. A jet engine, a propeller, a helicopter’s rotor, and a wing
all work by the same physics: Air is accelerated in the direction opposite
the desired force.
This chapter introduces a physical description of lift. It is based
primarily on Newton’s three laws. This description is useful for understanding
intuitively many phenomena associated with flight that one
is not able to understand with other descriptions. This approach
allows one to understand in a very clear way how lift changes with
such variables as speed, density, load, angle of attack, and wing area.
It is valid in low-speed flight as well as supersonic flight. This physical
description of lift is also of great use to the
pilot who desires an intuitive understanding of
the behavior and limitations of his or her airplane

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mon 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 which predominately serve commercial passengers

traveling on the world’s air carriers. Measuring passenger activity provides airport

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.

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


Figure 1-2. Many airports are no more than private grass strips.

(Photo by Seth Young)


total passengers is roughly double the number of annual enplanements. However,

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 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 airports,

but is the primary measure of activity at general aviation 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 general aviation

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 aircraft 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 planning

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 allairports, especially the largest airports in the nation, accommodate

passengers and cargo, as well as air carrier and private aircraft operations.


Airports and airport systems: An introduction

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 administered

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 administrations


FHWA—The Federal Highway Administration

FMCSA—The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration

FRA—The Federal Railroad Administration

FRA—The Federal Transit Administration

MARAD—The Maritime Administration

NHTSA—The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

USCG—The United States Coast Guard

The administration that oversees civil aviation is the Federal Aviation Administration

(FAA). The FAA’s primary mission is to oversee the safety of civil

aviation. The FAA is responsible for the rating and certification of pilots and for

the certification of airports, particularly those serving commercial air carriers.

The FAA operates the nation’s air traffic control system, including most air traffic

control towers found at airports, and owns, installs, and maintains visual

and electronic navigational aids found on and around airports. In addition, the

FAA administers the majority of the rules that govern civil aviation and airport

operations, as well as plays a large role in the funding of airports for improvement

and expansion. The FAA is led by an administrator who is appointed by

the secretary of transportation for a 5-year term.

The FAA is headquartered in Washington, D.C. Headquarter offices within the

FAA include the offices of Air Traffic Services (ATS), Office of Security and Hazardous

Matericals (ASH), Commercial Space Transportation (AST), Regulation

and Certification (AVR), Research and Acquisitions (ARA), and Airports (ARP).

Within the Office of Airports lies the Office of Airport Safety and Standards

(AAS) and the Office of Planning and Programming (APP). It is in these offices

where Federal Aviation Regulations and policies specific to airports are administered.