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Airport Research Needs: Cooperative Solutions - Special Report 272 Executive Summary Airports are vital national resources. More than 500 commercial-service airports and about 2,800 smaller general aviation airports scattered across the country make up the national airport system. Airports have key roles in the transportation of people and goods and in regional, national, and international commerce. They are where the nation’s aviation system connects with the other modes of transportation and where the federal responsibility for managing and regulating air traffic operations intersects with the role of the state and local governments that own and operate most airports. Airports are where national goals for aviation system efficiency and safety must maintain a balance with regional and local concerns about noise, environmental quality, and community development. Indeed, they are where the federal government’s commitment to protecting the environment must be integrated with its long-standing interest in promoting aviation use and accessibility. And now, more than ever, airports are at the forefront in the effort to ensure aviation security—a national and thus federal government imperative, but one that will require the efforts of thousands of public and private airport operators, regulators, suppliers, and users at all levels of government and industry. It is in this large and complex environment, with many—and often competing—requirements and expectations, that most airports operate. Responsibilities such as deicing aircraft require airport operators to find methods and materials that are economical for repeated large-scale application; perform quickly and effectively; meet Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) standards for aircraft compatibility; and comply with the runoff containment, capture, and disposal requirements of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) water quality standards. To meet such demands, operators need access to good information, technical guidance, and research expertise that cuts across many disciplines. They must understand how one set of demands affects another, and they must be able to work with airport users, regulators, and suppliers to implement solutions. Success in finding solutions will not only benefit airports, but also help all parties achieve their goals and do their jobs better. In the end, users of the nation’s aviation system—as well as those who are employed at or live near airports—will be the beneficiaries. The aviation sector is undergoing rapid change as many institutions, practices, and economic relationships are being rethought and reshaped. Many new problems and issues are emerging, even as many old ones persist. While
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Airport Research Needs: Cooperative Solutions - Special Report 272 airport operators face unprecedented challenges in this changing environment, they are presented with opportunities and incentives to work with one another and with federal agencies, airport users, and others in the aviation community to meet these challenges. Congress requested this study of the idea of creating a cooperative research program for airports—one that might be modeled after existing programs in the highway and transit modes and that will view research needs and priorities from the perspective of the nation’s airport operators. The committee concludes that such cooperative research is more than a good idea; it has become essential for ensuring airport security, efficiency, safety, and environmental compatibility. The committee urges Congress to establish a national airport cooperative research program (ACRP). On the basis of insights gained from studying cooperative research programs in other transportation modes, the committee recommends specific means of financing, governing, and managing the program. PRESSING NEED FOR COOPERATION IN AIRPORT RESEARCH Airports present a unique set of challenges and perspectives. By and large, airport operators are implementers charged with meeting these demands and finding solutions to the problems and conflicts that ensue. For instance, operators recognize many of the complexities involved in adopting alternative technologies and methods for screening airline passengers and baggage more thoroughly; they recognize implications for passenger traffic flows and supporting airport infrastructure, and the effects on airport efficiency and economic viability. They experience firsthand how changes in aircraft design and dimensions can have far-reaching effects on airport operations and utility by influencing everything from runway durability and capacity to the service life of passenger loading bridges and the design of terminal waiting areas. They understand how environmental protections and analysis procedures affect airport development and capacity and how changes in federal air traffic control and flight standards may affect airport capacity, utility, and environmental impacts on surrounding communities. Airport operators have incentives to find solutions to these varied needs. They must satisfy their fiduciary responsibility to their public-sector owners, and they must address local community concerns over economic development, strengthen air service, and comply with environmental regulations. At the same time, the nation as a whole has an interest in resolving the prob-
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Airport Research Needs: Cooperative Solutions - Special Report 272 lems that airport operators encounter, even if they are outside the traditional federal domain. Airports are most valuable collectively, as interconnected parts of the larger aviation network. For instance, when the capacity of a single airport is diminished—whether because of an unserviceable runway or an inefficient terminal layout—adverse effects can propagate throughout the regional or national aviation system. Problems shared by airports compound at the national level. However, operators of individual airports may not appreciate the broader implications of the problems they face; even when they do, they may not have the resources to search for effective solutions. The federal government, through FAA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), EPA, the Department of Defense, and now the Transportation Security Administration, sponsors and performs research relevant to airports. For the most part, the research supports each federal agency’s specific mission, from protecting the environment to ensuring aviation safety and security. But the results of the research must be applied in the field, often by the airport operators themselves. The operators are in a good position to help achieve these federal agency goals, which are often aligned with their own aims. Airport operators, working with one another and with the various federal agencies involved, must be actively involved in the search for solutions to many problems. Furthermore, they must be involved at every stage—from identification and prioritization of problems to the framing of the intended research products and the planning of effective dissemination. INSIGHTS FROM COOPERATIVE RESEARCH IN OTHER TRANSPORTATION MODES In requesting this study, Congress asked specifically for an evaluation of the applicability to airport research needs of the approaches to cooperative research in the highway and public transit modes. The experiences of the two main cooperative research programs in these other transportation modes—the National Cooperative Highway Research Program and the Transit Cooperative Research Program—offer lessons on the value of cooperative research and how to structure a cooperative research program for airports. Both programs fill gaps in and are important complements to the research efforts of the federal agencies, state and local transportation agencies, and private industry. They each provide a continuing means for highway and
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Airport Research Needs: Cooperative Solutions - Special Report 272 public transportation operators to identify shared problems in a diversity of areas and to seek solutions through applied research. The research problems are well defined and framed largely from the perspective of the operators, who ultimately must give practical effect to the results. The research is conducted by contractors selected on a competitive basis, which enables the programs to respond quickly and efficiently to the problems that operators face. The research is geared to providing practical products within 6 months to 3 years. Both programs emphasize disseminating results to end users and involving practitioners at every stage of the research process, including problem identification, design of the research plan and intended products, and review of research progress and results. These important characteristics are embedded in the means by which the programs are governed, financed, and managed. Careful consideration must be given to ensuring that similar characteristics are built into an ACRP. The following governance, financing, and management characteristics are especially important to fostering these outcomes: The program must be governed and the research agenda guided primarily by airport operators, but with the active participation and close collaboration of federal agencies, airport users, and others expected to use and help implement the research results. The program must be financed with revenues derived from aviation users. The research agenda must focus on useful products applicable to the diverse range of airport problems. Such an arrangement would prompt a strong sense of ownership of the program by the airport and aviation communities and a commitment to meeting their needs. The program must be managed to ensure that the research products meet scientific and professional standards of quality and are accessible to users. All stages of research projects must be guided by a combination of technical experts and practitioners to ensure objectivity, credibility, applicability, and dissemination. PROPOSAL FOR AN ACRP A specific proposal for an ACRP is outlined in Box ES-1. The proposal is a starting point embodying the key financing, governance, and management characteristics listed above. The committee recommends that Congress
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Airport Research Needs: Cooperative Solutions - Special Report 272 Box ES-1 Proposal for Financing, Governing, and Managing an ACRP Finance Congress allocates 0.20 percent of annual revenues to the Airport and Airway Trust Fund to ACRP funding, which would generate approximately $20 million per year. Congress allocates an amount equivalent to 1.5 cents from the $2.50 passenger security tax to ACRP funding, which would amount to about $10 million per year. Governance The Airports Council International (ACI), the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE), and the National Association of State Aviation Officials (NASAO) establish a nonprofit organization to create and formally appoint members to the ACRP Governing Board. The Governing Board consists of 23 members: ACI names ten members: six officials from large hub airports, two from medium-size hubs, and two from small hubs. NASAO names four members: two officials from nonhub or general aviation airports and two from state aviation departments. AAAE names two members: one official from a nonhub and one from a general aviation airport. The Air Transport Association names one member. The administrators of FAA, NASA, and EPA each name one member. The Undersecretary of Transportation Security names one member. The organization hosting the Governing Board or managing the program nominates two members who are interested in and knowledgeable about airport infrastructure, operations, safety, security, and environmental impacts. These nominations should be rotated periodically among air travelers, general aviation operators, air cargo carriers and shippers, airport consultants and suppliers, and researchers. The Governing Board will serve as the focal point for the identification of research needs shared by airport operators, users, and regulators. It will set the annual research agenda by identifying the highest-priority research themes, soliciting problem statements, screening candidate
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Airport Research Needs: Cooperative Solutions - Special Report 272 projects, defining project funding levels, and articulating expected products of research. It will guide and monitor the overall quality and strategic direction of the program, determine the technical objectives of all research projects, and coordinate with complementary public- and private-sector research programs. It will develop dissemination plans and ensure the dissemination of results. It will be responsible for conducting periodic assessments of the performance of the program in meeting the critical research needs of airports in a timely, credible, and efficient manner. The Governing Board will report annually on the program’s progress. After 3 years, the board will report on the state and accomplishments of the program and advise on future program funding beyond this trial period. Program Management The program will be managed in a manner consistent with the management of the National Cooperative Highway and Transit Cooperative Research Programs, which are administered by the National Academies’ Transportation Research Board. authorize and finance the program by allocating a percentage of Airport and Airway Trust Fund revenues and funds for aviation security generated by airport users. The airport community, acting through the relevant industry associations, should take the lead in forming the governing body to guide the program and in engaging the relevant federal agencies and airport users in the process. The committee believes that a program structured in this manner will, by its very nature, focus on the most urgent research needs of airports. A trial program authorized for a fixed period may be the most pragmatic means of obtaining broad political support. Moreover, it will compel airport operators and users to demonstrate their commitment to the program from the start. The highway and transit cooperative research programs demonstrate that such involvement is an essential ingredient for lasting success.
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