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ACRP Guidebook of Practices for Improving Environmental Performance at Small Airports

First-of-its-kind guidebook demystifies small airports’ environmental compliance requirements and highlights opportunities for sustainable operations

...a critical CliffsNotes for Federal Regulations. ...an innovative approach with great benefits for society.

Managers of the nation’s thousands of small airports have long faced the daunting task of complying with federal environmental requirements while dealing with limitations in staffing and environmental expertise. To ease this burden, the Airport Cooperate Research Program (ACRP) contracted Gresham, Smith and Partners to create the Guidebook of Practices for Improving  Environmental Performance at Small Airports, with the primary goals of raising awareness and providing tools for implementation. Through an abundance of graphics and concise language, the Guidebook provides a basic overview of environmental regulations and practices that can be easily understood, no matter the experience level. The GS&P team relied on its extensive experience in aviation environmental services to plan the groundbreaking Guidebook, which promotes practices that offer opportunities for small airports to improve environmental performance and save money.

 

 

What is the purpose of the Guidebook?

Rob McGormley: The purpose is to promote environmental awareness, identify applicable federal environmental compliance requirements, outline practices that proactively enhance environmental stewardship, and identify resources and tools that small airports can use to be proactive. We also sought to identify the differences in the environmental programs of large and small airports, particularly with regards to funding. We worked to understand what some of the smaller airports’ real limitations are in terms of overall awareness, and the level of knowledge and expertise of airport staff.

We wanted to describe complicated regulatory programs associated with everyday airport operations in layman’s terms, and how to convey the technical and economic viability, as well as environmental benefits, of proactive environmental stewardship practices to small airport managers struggling to keep their airports open.

Devon Seal: Essentially, we were tasked with creating a guidebook with just the right amount of detail for the small airport manager who might not know anything about environmental compliance, but realizes the importance and wants to learn.

How unique was the endeavor for the Transportation Research Board (TRB)?

Rob: The Guidebook is a first-of-its-kind comprehensive environmental resource document that offers value to the aviation audience interested in improving environmental performance. The TRB selected the Guidebook as a pilot document for its new expedited report publication process because they recognized the immediate value to the industry.

How did you begin the development of the Guidebook?

Rob: After carefully defining the audience, we provided the TRB with a clear vision of what the Guidebook would look like. We started by reviewing the federal regulations and then provided a summary of our findings to TRB’s Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP) panel. We then crafted a data collection and evaluation plan. Throughout the process, subject matter experts and subconsultants VHB and KB Environmental Sciences provided strength in various technical areas.

We then went through a process of identifying various practices and determining whether or not they actually were suitable for small airports. For instance, if a practice required six full-time staff members to implement, it wasn’t feasible for a small airport. Ultimately, we created a database of these various practices and screened them down to those that were deemed applicable.

Devon: We interviewed airports to confirm and supplement, where necessary, the database of environmental stewardship practices. The airport interviews included airports of different sizes that also represented different geographic locations within the small airport spectrum. We focused on understanding costs, staffing requirements, and operations and maintenance requirements. We also focused on benefits of the practices most applicable to small airports. The interviews validated our research and added credibility to our findings.

Were there any previous experiences that helped you prepare?

John Lengel: Yes, experience gained through our various environmental compliance projects with the Columbus Regional Airport Authority, the Indianapolis Airport Authority, Roanoke Regional Airport, and Jackson-Evers International Airport where we experienced several different environmental compliance situations.

Jill Lukehart: We’ve worked extensively with these clients for many years. We’ve completed environmental compliance audits, stormwater and oil spill prevention designs and plans, sat in on regulatory negotiations at the city and local level, and provided guidance on various environmental alternatives the airports could develop.

John: During those experiences, we learned a lot about how small airports operate, how they procure services, and what factors are important to them. We translated these observations into how the Guidebook addresses the regulations.

Did you rely on any of these previous relationships during the creation of the Guidebook?

Rob: Absolutely. Throughout the creation of the Guidebook, we worked with our current and previous small airport clients in a couple of different ways. We went back to some of them for the interviewing, and also to get an idea of how to shape the research questions. We also wanted some geographic representation, so we contacted airports from California to New York, down to Florida, Texas, and the Midwest.

Why was it necessary to gather information from such a broad geographic area?

Rob: We wanted to understand the various issues geographically, and to make sure that we captured those as we created the Guidebook. It helped us focus our research.

Jill: For example, typically on the east coast and in the Florida area many of the regulations are heavily focused on wetlands. Therefore, the potential for impact from that is greater than, say, in the Southwest. Groundwater issues are usually more prominent out west, and deicing is more of a concern in northern climates.

Rob: Air quality would be another geographic issue. There’s heightened awareness to air quality issues on the west coast with respect to greenhouse gases and climate change precursors.

Does the Guidebook cover all environmental regulations at small airports?

Jill: The regulations discussed in the Guidebook only cover federal requirements. Many states have their own environmental agencies or resource agencies, and under the project scope and budget we weren’t able to address state regulations, which can be more stringent than federal requirements. The Guidebook covers more than 30 federal regulatory programs, describes hundreds of environmental stewardship practices, and presents five detailed case studies.

Rob: Creating 50 different guidebooks that include state regulations would have taken a considerable amount of funding. However, there are some states pursuing their own guidebooks, such as Florida and Colorado. They are actually looking to our guidebook as a model to create a state companion document.

Does the Guidebook seek to educate in other ways?

John: Unlike typical regulatory guidance that focuses exclusively on what the regulation means, the Guidebook explains how to comply with the regulation and offers options to go beyond compliance (sustainability) where long-term cost savings may be realized.

Devon: The Guidebook is not only intended to help airports find ways to improve environmental performance beyond what’s required; there are non-environmental benefits that can be achieved from some of these proactive environmental stewardship practices. We included about 200 pages of identified practices, many of which would result in cost savings or other non-environmental benefits to the airport.

Jill: These practices are based on our experience. We understand the rules and regulations and we understand how airports can meet them. We also know that there are other things that can be done. For example, small airports could add a fuel spill response kit right next to a fuel island, so if there’s a spill they can clean it up quickly. Little insights like that are helpful, and go beyond compliance.

Rob: Two-thirds of the Guidebook is associated with these practices, which either help achieve a regulatory compliance requirement or reduce an airport’s potential environmental impact. They range from improving energy efficiency and using renewable energy practices, to managing hazardous waste and stormwater management practices.

In many cases, small airports don’t consider going beyond compliance, because they see it as expensive. In the Guidebook, we included graphics that show relatively inexpensive solutions, as well as whether or not there’s a potential return on investment.

How did you use your experience to explain some best practices?

Devon: There are several case studies that focus on the accomplishments of individual airports. In each case study we show how a small airport can actually put together an environmental program and how, with a limited budget and limited capabilities, they can implement a successful program.

Rob: One innovative case study describes how the airport in St. Augustine, Florida, was able to get support from board members and the community to initiate proactive environmental stewardship activities. Another example is the Westchester County Airport in New York, which implemented its own Environmental Management System. Significant improvement in relationships with regulators, neighbors, and public officials were typical. One airport received a call asking where they purchased their beautiful fountain. The fountain was installed in a stormwater detention basin to aerate the water and prevent nuisance odors and bacterial growth.

Are there any common threads to all of those case studies?

Rob: It was amazing how many social and economic benefits the airports garnered from their environmental programs. One airport saw increases in overall staff communication and morale by implementing an Environmental Management System. Another airport facilitated development of some of their non-aviation land by developing wetlands at an off-site community park. In most cases, there was usually somebody at the airport who acted as an environmental advocate and had a significant enough voice to really make it happen. And I think that’s an important piece.

Devon: One of the things that impressed me was the non-environmental benefits they all got from doing this. During the process, they realized the enhanced communication and economic benefits. They realized that having the airport seen as an environmental steward helps to establish trust in the community, which can help tremendously when trying to do other projects.

What would you say has been the most challenging feature of the project?

Rob: I think that it was writing the Guidebook so that it’s useful to a wide-ranging audience. That included organizing it in such a way that somebody who is unfamiliar with environmental issues can navigate through it. And we also found a way to add value for someone that has a higher level of environmental expertise. I think striking that balance was a challenge, because from a presentation standpoint if you don’t accomplish that, then the ultimate effectiveness of the Guidebook is negligible.

Any feedback now that the Guidebook is complete?

Rob: Everyone is quite pleased. This was the first project that TRB had done on an expedited delivery basis. In fact, it was published several months earlier than we planned because they felt it was important to get it in the hands of airports.

Since the Guidebook was published we’ve consistently received great feedback from airports across the nation.

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Project Info

  • Client: Transportation Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences Airport Cooperative Research Progr
  • Location: USA
  • Market: Aviation, Environmental Services
  • Services: Engineering, Planning, Environmental Engineering, Sustainability Management and Tracking
  • Team:
    • John A. Lengel Jr., P.E. PRINCIPAL-IN-CHARGE
    • Robert W. McGormley Principal Investigator
    • Devon E. Seal, P.E. Project professional
    • Jill N. Lukehart Project coordinator
    • Cheryl A. Shafer, P.E. PROJECT MANAGER
    • Jane Ahrens, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, O+M
    • Laura W. Fiffick, P.G.
    • Regan Packowski
    • Kyle L. Russell, P.E., BCEE
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