by Patrick Taylor, Principal
What are Feasibility/Site Selection Studies?
As a community grows and prospers, it may become more evident that a new or replacement airport is a necessary piece of critical transportation infrastructure. Airports, particularly general aviation airports, provide a connection to markets on a regional and national level. The FAA prescribes a process to developing a new or replacement airport. The first step to determining if a new or replacement airport is needed and can be supported is the Airport Feasibility Study. Should it be determined that the local economy can support an airport, then an appropriate location is identified through a Site Selection Study. Once a site is identified, a master plan of the site is developed, followed by an Environmental Assessment.
The Feasibility Study typically begins with an economic inventory and market assessment of the region expected to support the airport. This will include an analysis of aviation demand factors, such as competing airports, and potential aviation services to be offered. The next element is a detailed market assessment which includes a forecast of aviation demand and a determination of the specific facility requirements, such as runway length. The financial feasibility analysis will include a construction cost estimate and a detailed analysis of funding sources, including potential federal/state grant assistance.
Site Selection Study
The Site Selection Study will analyze numerous potential airport sites and identify a preferred alternative. With the abundant availability of geographic data, it is most common to filter various site selection factors through a geographic information system (GIS). Factors to be considered will include existing terrain, proximity to the region being served, proximity to other area airports, access to surface transportation infrastructure, and proximity to utilities.
First and foremost, there must be local political support for a new or replacement airport. There must also be an open and transparent process that actively engages the community, especially those that may be impacted by the planned location of the airport. Agencies anticipated to financially participate (FAA, State Aviation) should be engaged early in the process. The FAA prescribed process for a new/replacement airport additionally requires an Airport Master Plan followed by an Environmental Assessment. All four studies are eligible for FAA funding with a 10 percent local matching share.