Introduction to Airport Planning: The Master Plan

On January 1st, 1914. Abram Pheil became the 1st scheduled passenger in aviation history when he travelled between St. Petersburg and Tampa on a two-seater: Benoist XIV. More than 100 years have passed since, and aviation has bloomed as a whole new industry that connects and globalizes the world. According to ICAO, by 2010 there were more than 25,000,000 aircraft movements around the world transporting around 2.8 billion passengers. Certainly a leap compared to 1914. And it keeps on going. Aviation has constantly grown twofold every 15 years, indicating that by 2030, there will be around 6 billion passengers transported through air in the world. As aircrafts become larger, deregulation worldwide increases, and aircraft numbers climb across; there is a big question mark left to answer: How do airports adapt to all this growth?

Airport planning has become a key activity in order to maintain airports to speed with the quick evolution of the Aviation Industry. This, precisely, will be my main blogging topic, bringing you analysis, opinions, in-depth related topics and insights. Of course, your feedback is welcome at the end of each post. But first let’s start from the beginning: Airport planning has a very well-defined product, the “Master Plan”.

What is an Airport “Master Plan”?

The industry provides a lot of definitions which are perfectly valid, but I find that the most complete one is the following:

"The goal of a master plan is to provide guidelines for future airport development which will satisfy aviation demand in a financially feasible manner, while at the same time resolving the aviation, environmental and socio-economic issues existing in the community." – FAA.

Other definitions by ICAO (Section1-2) or industry experts such as Kazda and Caves miss the “financially feasible manner” aspect, which is the end-tail drill of this master planning activity. The need of this “activity” is simply driven by the fact that most airport developments tend to cost quite a lot. Any slight change in the infrastructure of an airport will usually cost around the order of magnitude of the tens of millions (£,$,€), and these changes don’t happen overnight. Reality is that airport development is a tedious process (especially in Europe), and because of the impact that airports have on their localities and the magnitude of the investment costs, any change in an airport must be smartly designed and justified.

The best way to understand what must a Master Plan contains is to start by understanding what relationships do airports have with their locality, region, country, airlines, etc. And all these interactions must be considered when planning since it is crucial for the success of any airport project that the development plans are inclusive from the very beginning of all possible stakeholders.

Airport Master Plan Elements

There are many elements that confine airport planning. All these elements are to be dealt with caution since getting any aspect wrong can be a tipping point for the success or failure of an airport project.

Here are some read-friendly Master Plans for UK medium-sized airports where the different elements can be identified: Aberdeen AirportManchester Airport, Liverpool AirportEdinburgh Airport, London City Airport, and Bristol Airport. All these elements might have different impacts on the airport planning process and have their associated risks detailed below:

Regulation

❖    Adds volatility to the demand. ❖    Dictates the guidelines for design and operation. (Annex 14 ICAO) ❖    Likely to change over short periods of time.

Land Use

❖    Any expansion will usually require of extended surface take. ❖    May limit the expansion options. ❖    Will make the project grow in cost.

Surface Access

❖    Integrates airports as an inter-modal node of the region where it is built. ❖    Threat to service and region benefit impact.

Route Development

❖    The route profile demand will very much define the airside requirements. ❖    It can be considered the main “service product”. ❖    An airport with insufficient runway limits itself to entire markets.

Government

❖    Airports are strategic assets for any nation. ❖    Close relation between the airport development and the governments. ❖    Airport projects can become very unpopular; this could potentially trigger a government intervention which could prevent an airport development to happen.

Local Communities

❖    Community engagement is key for the success of any airport project. ❖    Given the level of impact that an airport has in its locality, a positive relationship has to be constantly managed. ❖    All airports will have against groups which will periodically protest against the airport presence. ❖    Community pressure against airports can paralyse developments before they even start.

Forecasts

❖    Will define the shape that the airport will need to have in the short, mid and long term futures. ❖    In a deregulated market, volatility adds even more risk to the forecasts. ❖    Main input to planning activity.

Airlines

❖    Major airlines have an important paper in shaping the operation of an airport. ❖    Future plans of airlines can have big consequences for airports. ❖    Airlines can have a lot of negotiation power when they own most of the slots in an airport.

Environment

❖    Noise impact and Local Air Quality (LAQ) have a great deal of impact on the local communities. ❖    Species environment control can add a lot of cost to an airport project. ❖    Capacity can be limited by nose-factored movements per annum.

The above is only the surface of the complexity the airport planning activity can have, and each element must be dealt with carefully. In my next post, I will cover flexible airport planning as a strategy to deal with uncertainty around airport design and project development.

If you have comments, please register and leave one (or more) at the end of this blog post. Your feedback is appreciated.

References Airline Network Development in Europe and its implications for Airport Planning by Guillaume Burghouwt. ICAO Airport Master Plans Document Information via FAA