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FAA’s Top Airport Official Discusses Safety, AAM and Vertiports

Shannetta R. Griffin, P.E., associate administrator for airports, leads a team of more than 600 employees around the country and manages an annual budget of $3.35 billion, which includes an operating budget of about $112 million. She is responsible for the Airport Improvement Program grants, which total around $8 billion annually, as well as two major research programs. She is also responsible for administering national airport safety and standards, planning, engineering, environmental processing, financial assistance and compliance programs for more than 3,300 public-use airports nationwide.

Prior to joining the FAA, Griffin served as the chief commercial officer for Ohio’s Columbus Regional Airport Authority. She managed the authority’s revenue generation, including parking and ground transportation, air service development, concessions, land development, real estate and cargo development.

Q: With runway incursions and wrong surface events frequently in the news recently, how is the FAA Office of Airports leading efforts to reduce these events?

We recognize that one close call is one too many and we are working hard to drive the number of such incursions to zero. The FAA Office of Airports continues to prioritize and promote awareness and proactivity in runway safety and operations among airports.

After analyzing more than six years of national runway incursion data between 2007 and 2013, we initiated a comprehensive multiyear Runway Incursion Mitigation (RIM) Program in 2015 to identify, prioritize and develop strategies to help airport sponsors mitigate risk. To date, more than 100 locations have implemented mitigations, with an approximately 70% overall reduction in runway incursion events. For years, we have funded airport and safety projects through our Airport Improvement Program (AIP). The historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) has given us the opportunity to fund additional safety projects.

Recently, the FAA:

  • Announced investment of over $200 million for runway lighting at large and small airports.
  • Launched a safety summit to address the current runway and surface safety events with multiple stakeholders and to identify solutions.
  • Fast-tracked three initiatives to address specific safety concerns on the airport surface.
  • Invested over $221 million to reduce runway incursions at 20 airports.

“I can’t emphasize enough that it’s imperative that airports start planning for the increased electrical demands that AAM aircraft, and electric aircraft in general, will bring to the airfield environment.”

Q: How do you see airports transforming in the near future to accommodate advanced air mobility (AAM) and electrification? What is the FAA doing to prepare for the new infrastructure to support this next generation of vertical aviation?

These are exciting times to be in aviation as we continue to see rapid innovation across the aviation ecosystem.

In the next few years, the FAA expects to see more traditional aircraft transitioning to electric, hydrogen and hybrid propulsion, and the industry adopting aircraft that will operate under the vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) and short takeoff and landing (STOL) models.

A growing number of airports, communities, developers and AAM operators are planning for landing and takeoff sites both co-located on and separate from airports. We have developed new performance-based design guidelines for vertiports to provide key information to begin development of facilities that. will support operations of AAM aircraft that are electrically powered with vertical takeoff and landing capabilities.

While only a few markets may see those early operations, I can’t emphasize enough that it’s imperative that airports start planning for the increased electrical demands that AAM aircraft, and electric aircraft in general, will bring to the airport environment, not excluding electric vehicles. The Office of Airports will continue to be a partner with our airports and other stakeholders through the dynamic change our industry is facing.

Q: One of the most significant developments in 2023 was the release of the FAA's final rule on airport safety management systems (SMS). Can you discuss why this rule is important to general aviation (GA) airports and can you share any advice for those facilities?

When full implementation is achieved, we foresee the airport SMS rule integrating with safety management systems for Part 135 and some Part 91 operators and other safety initiatives currently in place. This will result in increased communication and collaboration to present a positive safety culture. The final rule on airport SMS is applicable by regulation to certain 14 CFR Part 139 airports; however, the fundamentals of safety management systems also applies to GA airports.

We designed the Part 139 SMS rule to be scalable to airports of different sizes, complexities and structure and we are confident this program could even be adopted by GA airports as well.

Some of our leading GA airports have modeled their safety programs after Part 139. We hope to see other GA airports adopt the Part 139 Airport SMS rule in the same manner.

For the early adopters of what we are calling our External SMS Program (139 SMS), including airports in other countries that have mature SMS programs, we are hearing about great benefits and success that are directly and positively impacting airport safety.

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