May 21, 2012

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) last week released the results of an 18-month study on general aviation (GA) airports that “highlights the pivotal role GA airports play in our society, economy and the entire aviation system,” according to the agency.

NBAA and numerous other aviation stakeholders participated in the study, which the federal agency hopes will provide the general public with a “better understanding of GA airports in the community and within the national air transportation system.”

“We applaud the FAA for its efforts to quantify and promote the many and diverse functions that occur at our nation’s general aviation airports,” said Jeff Gilley, NBAA’s director of airports & ground infrastructure, who advised the FAA during the study period. “This report is a useful tool that can assist all of us in general aviation to better articulate and communicate the essential role that general aviation airports play in our nation’s transportation system.”

For the first time, the study, titled “General Aviation Airports: A National Asset,” attempted to categorize GA airports into four broad new categories or descriptions, which Gilley notes is not related to federal funding categories as delineated in the five-year federal planning document titled ”The National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems” (NPIAS). However, the FAA indicated that it “will incorporate findings of the study into existing GA airport guidance.”

Of the more than 19,000 landing facilities in the United States and its territories, 3,330 are included in the NPIAS, which means they are open to the public and eligible for federal funding via the Airport Improvement Program (AIP). The new study found that of these, 2,952 can be categorized as general aviation facilities, which includes 121 airports that have limited scheduled airline service (between 2,500 and 10,000 passengers boarded each year).

The four categories described in the new FAA study, which also includes maps of where the airports are located, include:

  1. National airports (84), which serve national and global markets, have very high levels of activity, with many jets and multiengine propeller aircraft, and average about 200 total based aircraft, including 30 jets.
  2. Regional airports (467), which serve regional and national markets, have high levels of activity, with some jets and multiengine propeller aircraft, and average about 90 total based aircraft, including three jets.
  3. Local airports (1,236), which serve local and regional markets, have moderate levels of activity, with some multiengine propeller aircraft, and average about 33 based propeller-driven aircraft and no jets.
  4. Basic airport (668), which often serve critical aeronautical functions within local and regional markets, have moderate to low levels of activity and average about 10 propeller-driven aircraft and no jets.

The study could not clearly establish a category for the remaining 497 general aviation airports, indicating these will require further study.

Gilley noted NBAA has also published a popular Airports Handbook that contains a variety of information and data relative to business flying and general aviation airports. The handbook is in the process of being updated, and copies of the newer version of the publication will be available later this year.