Airports and GIS: Your Questions Answered

By coffman | Dec 14, 2016 | News, news-home | No Comments


Even though GIS technology has been used in different capacities for decades, its numerous benefits to airports have only been realized within the last several years. In 2009, the FAA launched the Airports GIS program, which is designed to gather and store all airport and aeronautical data in a central location at the FAA.  This program put a spotlight on the importance of incorporating GIS technology at airports, and sponsors and other airport personnel have taken notice. However, many people – including those in the aviation industry – have questions about GIS and its uses. Our goal today is to answer those questions, providing you with a better understanding of this extraordinary technology and how it can be used to an airport’s advantage.

What is GIS?

More than an information system, GIS is way of thinking about everyday data in a spatial context.  At its core, it is a computerized mapping tool that collects, stores, organizes, and displays data in relation to an item’s geographic location.  Behind the scenes, it is a series of interconnected tables that allow you to store any type of information, whether it’s buildings, lights, leases, power consumption, or images. Once stored, the information can then be used in a variety of different applications: asset management, reports, 2D or 3D layered maps, airspace calculation, and whatever the airport needs to help it operate through data management.

How can GIS help airports?

Airports, regardless of their size, are complex facilities that play a critical role in regional and national transportation.   In the past, airport personnel have relied on paper files and static digital files to collect and maintain data about their facility. While these methods have been sufficient in the past, they are limited in ways that GIS is not.

Using GIS technology, airport sponsors and staff can incorporate all their data streams into one organized and efficient tool that can be used for a variety of purposes. Everything from pavement conditions to leasing information to airspace obstructions can be mapped and analyzed, resulting in a highly detailed and organized display that contains all of an airport’s important facility information. This data can then be accessed with the click of a button using applications tailored for specific purposes.

For example, a lease management application can display the location of leased areas, including buildings or land. When a user clicks on a specific area, information about the lease is displayed. Because GIS tables can store any type of data, the airport can see square footage, contact information, lease expirations, and even a copy of the lease document.

Ultimately, GIS helps airports visualize data so they can better understand the relationships between data points and their locations. This results in a more complete picture that allows the user to gain a greater depth of information management, leading to better decision-making and more effective use of available staff and resources.

What does the future hold for GIS at airports?

Complete digital management of airport information is a realistic goal that is both efficient and sustainable. That, coupled with advances in web based applications, gives the airport access to its data anywhere there is an internet connection. This means that an airport manager can answer a critical question about a lease from virtually anywhere, or even conduct preliminary airspace analysis for a potential development opportunity.

Technology integration is also making GIS more accessible, as people are able to use alternate devices, such as smartphones and tablets, to run the web-based applications.  Airports are also seeing, and will continue to see, reduced costs as open technologies become mainstream. This helps alleviate the high costs associated with traditional GIS systems.

Over the long-term, GIS will provide faster, easier access to information, along with improved data management. Finally, the use of GIS aligns with the current focus on sustainability, as the technology virtually eliminates the need for paper-based management.

What are some of the GIS tools available from Coffman Associates?

Coffman Associates uses a pay-as-you-go, modular approach to our application suite. Currently, we offer: Airport Digital Inspections (including Part 139), lease management, wildlife hazard management, utility and airport asset management, UAS self-reporting, noise monitoring, land use analysis, and Airspace Impact Analysis. We also have emergency management, SMS, and snow removal tracking currently under development.  Our entire application suite can be used with open imagery, imagery collected by the airport from the AGIS project, or locally sourced imagery from the county or city.


GIS is an increasingly valuable asset that offers numerous benefits to airports. The multi-faceted uses of this technology make it a comprehensive tool that provides detailed, streamlined information, saving the airport a significant amount of time and money. The future is bright for GIS, and it’s only going to get brighter as more in the aviation industry realize its incredible potential.

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