Larger Jets at Airports Will Require Significant Infrastructure Investment

Flex Air Charters Aircraft, Airports

In the US, general aviation aircraft fly over 24.8 million hours, two-thirds of which is for business purposes. The aviation industry, which produces $219 billion in total economic output, provides 1.1 million total jobs and adds $109 billion to the GDP.

These statistics, which are provided by the General Aviation Aircraft Manufacturers Association (GAMA), show the that given the importance of aviation, airports provide an invaluable service to the nation’s transportation services and generate economic wealth.

Nowadays, aircraft manufacturers are investing millions of dollars to create jobs, which has a positive impact on the national economy. $23.9 billion in new aircraft were delivered in 2017, a 1.3 percent increase in business jet deliveries from 2016. This growth was spurred by the introduction of several new aircraft models into service.

As general aviation aircraft fleets expand globally, buyers of private jets who want to travel long distances are purchasing new, larger models. For example, the Boeing Business Jet (BBJ), which is approximately 65 percent taller than luxury jets such as the Global Express or Gulfstream V, requires a “Group I” hangar with a more expensive fire suppression system, as well as thicker concrete in the hangar floor and apron area.

Therefore, the introduction of aircraft with larger wingspans presents a new challenge to general aviation airports with older infrastructures. Hangars constructed decades ago are too small to provide the essential support facilities and services.

New capital improvement projects will be necessary to accommodate the new ultra-long-range jets. FBOs, private owners, and jet charter and management companies will have to invest in existing leaseholds and facilities. Also, municipal zoning requirements, which regulate building features such as hangar height, will have to be revised. This could prove a lengthy and costly process for airports.

Additionally, greater hangar door height requires changes to the entire structure. To accommodate larger wingspans, hangars will necessitate a column-free area, which will demand more steel support, which in turn increments the cost of construction.

Andy Shorter, director of Coastal Carolina Regional Airport, says the airport recently won a new $3.9 million FAA grant for “the first transformational project we’ve had in a long time,” an apron expansion. An apron is where airplanes park to load and unload passengers and cargo.

“Even the small airplanes are getting bigger. Bigger means more space… By expanding the apron, we can have enough space for them,” he says.

Airports must also meet the Federal Aviation Administration’s design standards for runway and taxiway widths, as well as runway-to-taxiway and taxiway-to-taxiway separation requirements. All of these changes will add up to billions of dollars in expenditures, which will have to ultimately be borne by users.

Therefore, it is important for airport sponsors, users and operators to join forces to come up with innovative solutions to serve an evolving aircraft fleet, while meeting operational needs, attaining cost-effectiveness and affording passengers an improved flight experience.