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2. From Airfield to Airport

Airports were not always known as airports. They were
originally called "flying fields". This is because they were
just that, fields. During the early days of aviation, a large
field was needed for airplane operations. A long and
equally as wide field was necessary because the airplane
needed to be oriented into the wind no matter which
direction the wind was blowing.

Airplanes take off and land more efficiently when oriented

into the wind. To maximize the airplane's potential to
achieve the greatest lift in the shortest amount of distance
and time during takeoff, airplanes should be pointed into
the wind. By landing into the wind the ground speed is
minimized. This allows the pilot more time to make the
adjustments necessary for a smooth touchdown. Ground
speed is a combination of airspeed (the speed provided by
the propulsion system's thrust minus some drag) plus
wind speed. Therefore if an airplane with an airspeed of
100 mph is landing with a wind that has a speed of 20
mph then the actual ground speed of the airplane is 120 mph (100 mph + 20 mph = 120 mph).
Conversely, if the airplane with an airspeed of 100 mph is landing into the wind with a wind
speed of 20 mph then the actual ground speed of the airplane is 80 mph (100 mph - 20 mph =
80 mph). This is helpful to the pilot as the pilot attempts to stall the airplane just above the
runway for a smooth landing.

In early aviation times, the takeoff procedure consisted of

people moving the airplane to the downwind side of the
field and pointing it into the wind. Early aircraft were
designed to fly, not move about the ground, so the landing
gear of many airplanes were merely skids, not wheels.
After the airplane was checked out to see if everything was
ready, the pilot switched on the fuel and the magneto. A
helper would turn the propeller by hand while others held
onto the airplane to keep it from moving. When the engine started and the helper who
"propped" the plane was out of the way, the airplane was released, bounced awkwardly along
the field and eventually took off. Since the wind speed and direction varied, a large field
allowed the airplane to always takeoff and land into the wind. Not until after the 1930s were
airplanes equipped for self-propelled taxiing (move slowly along the ground) and quite a few
airports were still large fields.

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Many airports around the country still have the word "Field" in their name. Merrill Field (MRI)
in Anchorage, AK, Love Field (DAL) in Dallas, TX and Woodrum Field (ROA) in Roanoke, VA
are three airports still referred to as fields.

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3. Airports Today
Aircraft and airports have evolved and continue to evolve. In the 1950s airplanes began to have
a variety of uses for transportation and business. Airplanes were equipped with steerable tail
wheels instead of tail skids so they could operate more easily on the ground. As airplanes got
larger and heavier it became necessary for airports to have hard surface runways instead of the
grass or gravel fields because such fields could not support the weight of heavier airplanes. (A
Boeing 747 can weigh more than 800,000 pounds at takeoff.) Airports eventually began to
offer more services for airplane operators and their increasing number of passengers. A
modern large airport today has thousands of workers, accommodates tens of thousands of
passengers, and loads or unloads hundreds of thousands of pounds of baggage and cargo daily.

There are many types of airports that exist today as part of the United States' air transportation
system. These airports range from a single grass airstrip in an agricultural or rural area to the
large airports serving major cities. There are seven basic types of airports:
1. Rural airstrip
2. Private airstrip
3. Military airports
4. Small community airport
5. Regional community airport
6. Regional airport
7. Major city airport

What separates one from the other depends upon the

types of services it provides, the size aircraft it serves,
the length of the runways with its complementary
terminal facilities, and its proximity to a densely
populated area.

Not all airports are located near towns and cities.

Driving through agricultural regions, a single narrow
strip of grass or pavement along the highway could
indicate that there is an aerial operation based there.
These are referred to as rural airstrips. There are several private communities in the United
States with a small, common airstrip where homes with attached hangars allow owners to taxi
from their hangar to a shared runway. An interesting note: in Alaska any public road can be
used as a runway, however in the state of New York it is illegal to make an emergency landing
on any highway.

Military airstrips or airports are

usually restricted to military aircraft
usage from flight testing to military

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training routes. These airports are

designed to handle rotorcraft or fixed wing aircraft. Most of the runways of military airports
can accommodate heavy, wide-body aircraft and have a runway length of 8,000 to 13,000 feet.

Many small communities have single airstrip

airports where private and small business
airplanes are based. These small community
airports support general aviation flying. Most
of these smaller airports do not have operating
control towers. Often these regional
community airports offer facilities for training
student pilots. A few of these smaller airports
near remote towns and cities have limited
airline service. These services usually consist of
small, propeller airplanes or small, regional jets
that seat no more than 20 passengers. The
airline service from a small community airport
can provide service to a major city airport and a
regional airport, and also to a regional
community airport.

The regional community airports typically are larger than the small community airports, have
airport control towers, and have facilities for operation in instrument conditions when visibility
is poor. Commuter airlines using slightly larger jets (like 727s) provide service from these
airports to other regional community airports, regional airports, and to major city airports.

Regional airports are supported by several

communities. Working together these communities
can have an airport with instrument facilities, a control
tower, and airline service. These airports provide
passenger and cargo service on a regular basis and
support the larger passenger aircraft. The Kingston,
NC area airport is the Kingston Regional Jetport at
Stallings Field, (ISO), and the Tri-cities Regional
TN/VA (TRI) airport is operated by the cities of
Bristol, Johnson City, and Kingsport TN.

Airports can be privately owned or owned by counties,

cities, or groups of cities. Some airports are owned by
counties or small cities with the costs, profits, and
rewards being shared by the citizens of the county or city. Fulton County-Brown Field (FTY)
near Atlanta is a busy airport with all the services offered at major city airports. It has a control
tower and instrument landing facilities. Many of these smaller city airports have two or more
runways and facilities for making instrument approaches when the weather causes ceilings and
visibilities below authorized minimums.

Airport "size" is usually judged by the number of operations (takeoffs and landings) made each
day. In the United States Chicago-O'Hare International (ORD), Hartsfield (ATL) in Atlanta,
and Dallas-Ft. Worth International (DFW) are usually the three largest airports as measured
by operations. These major city airports handle most national and international flights and

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support mainly the much larger airliners such as 737s, 747s and 777s. Characteristics of these
major city airports include separate terminals for national and international flights, two or
more long runways capable of handling the larger jet airliners, and fully functioning airport
control towers with instrument landing capabilities.

In the United States, the primary means of travel between large cities at least 1,000 miles apart
is by air. Airliners transport large numbers of passengers and vast quantities of luggage and
freight over great distances in relatively short time frames. The smaller general aviation aircraft
provide passenger and cargo service to the less-populated communities. Overall, airports bring
business and industry to every community they support. All airports regardless of their size,
provide access to the air transportation network.

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4. Airport Identification
A few of the larger airports are commonly referred to by their airport identifiers. In Los
Angeles people fly out of L-A-X, that is, Los Angeles International Airport. In New York City,
the largest airport is often referred to as J-F-K instead of John F. Kennedy International
Airport. In the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, people fly in and out of D-F-W.

All airports have an airport identifier. The identifier is actually four letters or a combination of
letters and numbers. Since the first letter of all continental United States airports is "K", it is
just omitted from the remaining identification letters. For airline luggage tags all identifiers for
all countries have only three letters. If you have flown into any of the destination airports listed
below you might recognize the three-letter luggage tag.

SFO - San Francisco International

DEN - Denver International
MCI - Kansas City International
STL - Lambert-St. Louis International
CLE - Cleveland-Hopkins International
DCA - Ronald Reagan Washington National
FFA - First Flight (Kill Devil Hills, NC)

A. Bar codes contain four

characters signifying the
final destination.

B. Carrier initials
(Speedy Flight) and a
six-character bag
number are followed by a
abbreviation for the final
destination (FWA = Fort
Wayne, Indiana).

C. Final flight listed first,

carrier initials, flight
numbers, and date for all
parts of the journey show
a mini-itinerary.
Destinations for initial
flights are listed in
smaller type (DTW =

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Detroit, Michigan).

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5. Airport Layout
Aviation is controlled by an agency of the United States' government known as the Federal
Aviation Administration or the FAA. This agency mandates identification standards for airport
layout that is meant to assist pilots in easily recognizing runways from the air and to taxi safely
from the runway to the gate. From runway numbers and painted stripes to airport and runway
lights and signs, the FAA regulates the National Airspace System.

In navigation and surveying, all measurement of

direction is performed by using the numbers of a
compass. A compass is a 360° circle where 0/360° is
North, 90° is East, 180° is South, and 270° is West.
Runways are laid out according to the numbers on a
compass. A runway's compass direction is indicated by
a large number painted at the end of each runway.
Preceding that number are 8 white stripes. Following
that number by 500 feet is the "touchdown zone" which
is identified by 6 white stripes. A runway's number is
not written in degrees, but is given a shorthand format.
For example, a runway with a marking of "14" is
actually close to (if not a direct heading of) 140 degrees.
This is a southeast compass heading. A runway with a
marking of "31" has a compass heading of 310 degrees,
that is, a northwest direction. For simplicity, the FAA
rounds off the precise heading to the nearest tens. For example, runway 7 might have a precise
heading of 68 degrees, but is rounded off to 70 degrees.

Each runway has a different number on each end. Look at the diagram below. One end of the
runway is facing due west while the other end of the runway is facing due east. The compass
direction for due west is 270 degrees ("27"). The compass direction for due east is 90 degrees
("9"). All runways follow this directional layout. This runway would be referred to as "Runway
9-27" because of its east-west orientation.

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The FAA includes over 20 different runway layouts in their advisory materials. There are 4 basic
runway configurations with the rest being variations of the original patterns. The basic runway
configurations are the following:

A) single runway
This is the simplest of the 4 basic configurations. It is one runway optimally positioned for prevailing
winds, noise, land use and other determining factors. During VFR (visual flight rules) conditions, this
one runway should accommodate up to 99 light aircraft operations per hour. While under IFR
(instrument flight rules) conditions, it would accommodate between 42 to 53 operations per hour
depending on the mix of traffic and navigational aids available at that airport.

B) parallel runways
There are 4 types of parallel runways. These are named according to how closely they are placed next to
each other. Operations per hour will vary depending on the total number of runways and the mix of
aircraft. In IFR conditions for predominantly light aircraft, the number of operations would range
between 64 to 128 per hour.

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C) open-V runways
Two runways that diverge from different directions but do NOT intersect form a shape that looks like an
"open-V" are called open-V runways. This configuration is useful when there is little to no wind as it
allows for both runways to be used at the same time. When the winds become strong in one direction,
then only one runway will be used. When takeoffs and landings are made away from the two closer
ends, the number of operations per hour significantly increases. When takeoffs and landings are made
toward the two closer ends, the number of operations per hour can be reduced by 50%.

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D) intersecting runways
Two or more runways that cross each other are classified as intersecting runways. This type of
configuration is used when there are relatively strong prevailing winds from more than one direction
during the year. When the winds are strong from one direction, operations will be limited to only one
runway. With relatively light winds, both runways can be used simultaneously. The greatest capacity for
operations is accomplished when the intersection is close to the takeoff end and the landing threshold as
shown below (with the configuration on the left).

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The capacity for the number of operations varies greatly with this runway configuration. It really
depends on the location of the intersection and the manner in which the runways are operated (IFR,
VFR, aircraft mix). This type of configuration also has the potential to use a greater amount of land area
than parallel runway configurations.

Airports also use standardized lighting and ground markings to provide direction and
identification to all air and ground crews. To assist pilots in differentiating at night between
airport runways and freeways, airports have rotating beacon lights. These beacons usually flash
green and white lights to indicate a civilian airport. They are visible from the air long before the
entire airport is recognizable. To help pilots at night quickly identify the beginning of a runway,
green threshold lights line the runway's edge. Red lights mark the ends of runways and indicate
obstructions. Blue lights run alongside taxiways while runways have white or yellow lights
marking their edges. All these markings and lights serve to set a safety standard for all pilots to

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6. Influences on Airport Layout
When runways are built, their layout is influenced by many factors:

 Federal Aviation Regulations

 environmental concerns
 noise level impacts
 terrain and soil considerations
 natural and man-made obstructions
 annual weather patterns
 the size and performance characteristics of the airplanes that will use the runways

These are all factors in runway and airport planning. Many issues are studied before final
decisions on airport location and runway layout are determined.

Impact Report Maps for Ames Research Center, 1999

Cultural and Historic Wetlands and Habitat

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Noise and Safety Site Pollution

Environmental impact requirements for airports were first established with the National
Environmental Policy Act of 1969 and in 1970 with the Airport and Airway Development Act.
These acts ensure that due consideration is given to the effects on the quality of the
environment and the surrounding communities in regard to airport expansion, use and
development. Before building a new facility or expanding an existing facility, an impact study
or feasibility study must be done. These studies include a critical assessment of all impact
issues from soil to air quality.

Controlling water pollution from airports has been well-mastered by planners. Airports can be
major contributors to water pollution if suitable treatment facilities are not provided for the
various types of airport wastes. These wastes include the following: domestic sewage, industrial
wastes such as oil and fuel spills and high temperature water degradation that stems from the
heat of various power plants in nearly constant use at an airport.

One of the most severe problems is that of aircraft noise in and around an airport. Laying out
runways so that air traffic patterns occur minimally over heavily populated areas is a practice
now widely employed during runway expansion and when building new airports. Controlling
the land use around an airport also helps reduce the interference of aircraft noise with the
public. Noise abatement procedures during takeoff and landing make for quieter airport
operations. Such procedures consist of a faster takeoff speed quickly followed by slowing the
engine once airborne over a populated area, then returning the engines to full speed and
resuming normal flight operations. This lessens the amount of engine noise over the populated
area without adversely affecting the flight. Improvements in engine design have also been a
successful factor in reducing aircraft noise.

Airports attract business and people, but airports are noisy. Businesses and people do not like
airport noise. There are very few airports in the world where no noise complaints have been
recorded. Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport (DFW) records the time and track of every
arriving and departing aircraft. If a complaint is received DFW personnel can identify the
aircraft that was the cause. There is an organization called the San Francisco Airport
Roundtable that keeps tabs on noise and other concerns at the San Francisco International
Airport (SFO).

One of NASA's aeronautics research goals

is to reduce the perceived levels of noise

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from future aircraft by a factor of 2 within

10 years and a factor of 4 within 25 years

Noise in the vicinity of airports generated

from aircraft operations has an adverse
impact on a community's quality of life. At
the very least, aircraft noise is distracting
and it can be unhealthy. Noise is generated
from the propulsion system by the rotating
machinery, the combustion process, the jet
flow from the nozzle as well as by the
aircraft from airflow over wing flaps and
around the landing gear. Noise is measured
as sound pressure levels in decibels (dB).
Noise impact on communities is a function
of both the noise (dB) from a single aircraft
operation and the number of aircraft
operations. Therefore, as operations
NASA Research
increase, overall community noise impact
A new approach to noise reduction is the active noise control
effort. The primary principle of active noise control is to sense
increases. NASA's objective is to lower the noise disturbances in the engine and cancel them before they
aircraft source noise such that there is a leave the engine. In effect, negative noise is made to cancel out
substantial reduction in community noise
the engine's sound waves so that no noise is heard. This is a

impact even as the number of aircraft

multidisciplinary effort involving duct acoustics, controls, and
actuator/sensor design.
operations increase.
NASA Glenn has a unique facility for this testing. The Active
The Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) makes
Noise Control Fan is a 4-ft-diameter low-speed fan designed

the regulations (CFR, Part 36) but airport

specifically for active noise control testing. To date, several
concepts have shown successful cancellation of selected acoustic
operators are primarily responsible for modes. Because noise is the sum of all possible acoustic modes,
planning and implementing action the effort is still in its infancy, but it has potentially high payoffs.
designed to reduce the effect of noise on
Active noise control will contribute to the 6 db noise reduction

residents of the surrounding area. Such

goal of the AST program.

actions include optimal site location, improvements in airport design, and noise abatement
procedures. Noise abatement procedures can include designated arrival and/or departure
paths and procedures. Land acquisition and restrictions on airport use should not unjustly
discriminate against any user or impede the federal interest in safety and management of the
air navigation system.

Over the last 10 years aircraft have been required to become less noisy. This change was
accomplished with the design of quieter engines and in some cases "hush kits" were installed
on some older aircraft. The change came in three stages where the aircraft noise level in
decibels was reduced to less objectionable and less dangerous levels. As of the first of January
2000 Stage 3, the final stage, was implemented.

The noise level of Stage 3 aircraft is comparable to a busy urban street and is much quieter
than the Stage 2 aircraft noise level which is similar to an amplified rock music concert.

To find noise restrictions for individual airports check out the Boeing Corporation web site:


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The ground on which the airport is to be built must have a stable stratum of earth upon which
building foundations can be anchored. The soil must be capable of supporting heavy loads
without shifting or sinking. If the airport's runways are to be used by heavy aircraft (airplanes
with a gross weight 300,000 pounds and heavier) the underlying soil and/or bedrock must be
able to support the weight of the runway plus the aircraft's weight. Many airport runways have
several feet of reinforced concrete to support the airplanes without cracking.

Land at a greater elevation surrounding an airport such as mountains also have a profound
effect on winds. In the daytime, air next to a mountain slope is heated by contact with the
ground as it receives radiation from the sun. This air usually becomes warmer than the air
farther up the slope. Colder, denser air in the area settles downward and forces the warmer air
near the ground up the mountain slope. This wind is called a "valley wind" because the air is
flowing up and out of the valley. At night, the air in contact with the mountain slope is cooled
by terrestrial radiation and becomes heavier than the surrounding air. It sinks along the slope
producing the "mountain wind" which flows like water down the mountain slope. Mountain
winds are usually stronger than valley winds, especially in winter. The wind pattern on the
leeward side of a mountain contains dangerous downdrafts or "rotor waves". An aircraft flying
through such wind would encounter hazardous turbulence that would push the airplane
towards the ground. These are all considered when orienting runways in an area near

There are many airports within mountainous areas where the runway headings generally run
parallel with the length of the valley in which they are located or run along neighboring rivers.
The terrain often influences development of the runways in the mountains. The airport runway
at Aspen, CO, Aspen-Pitkin County/Sandy Field (ASE) is located near the end of a long valley.
Airplanes land up the valley and takeoff down the valley. Mountains rise abruptly from the
airport elevation of 7,815 feet to above 14,000 feet on three sides of the airport.

Man-made obstructions like multi-storied high rises, transmissions towers and bridges can and
do influence runway orientation. Landing at Reagan National Airport on Runway 15 requires a
curving approach that follows above the Potomac River's course. Takeoff on Runway 33 from
the same airport requires the reverse trip following above the Potomac River because of
government buildings to the north of the river and many high buildings south of the river.

Consideration of local weather patterns is also a factor in determining an airport's layout. The
weather patterns of an area, especially the prevailing winds, are a major factor in determining
runway headings. Prevailing winds are defined as the direction from which the winds blow
most frequently. Remember that airplanes take off and land into the wind. Let's say that at a

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given airport the prevailing winds blow in from the west 65% of the year, while 30% of the year
the wind blows in from the east, and the remaining 5% coming from the northwest. It would be
best then to orient the runway W (27) and E (9). That would mean that approximately 95% of
the year airplanes would be landing and taking off into the wind. In most of Texas and
Oklahoma the runways are generally N-S runways because the winds are usually from either
the North or South. In parts of the Eastern United States there are many airports with NE-SW
and NW-SE runways because the winds are more likely to change between those two

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7. Terminal Configuration

Although there are many types of terminal configurations currently in use at airports across the
United States, the five basic types are given below with a brief description of each.

Simple terminal
This configuration consists of one building holding a common ticketing and waiting
area with several exits leading to a small aircraft parking apron for boarding. This is
used at mainly small aircraft airports and some older large airports.

Linear terminal/ Curvilinear terminal

This is simply an extension of the simple terminal
concept providing more gates and more room within
the terminal for ticketing and passenger processing.

Pier finger terminal

This terminal configuration evolved during the 1950s when gate concourses
were added to the simple terminal building designs. A concourse is actually
defined as an open space where paths meet. Passengers are usually processed
at the simple terminal location and then routed down a "pier" where aircraft
are parked in the "finger" slots or gates for boarding.

Pier satellite terminal/ Remote satellite terminal

This configuration involves a single terminal where all the
ticketing and passenger processing takes place. Connected
to this are numerous concourses that lead to one or more
satellite structures. At the end of each concourse the
aircraft are parked in a cluster. This increases the distance
a passenger must walk to get from one terminal to another
or one gate to another. People-mover systems are
employed in these settings to reduce these walking
distances. These systems can be high speed escalators,
monorails or electric-powered carts. This design concept lends itself to a compact central
terminal, but is difficult to expand without disrupting airport operations.

Mobile lounge or transporter terminal (remote aircraft parking concept)

This concept is currently in use at Dulles International Airport and Tampa
International Airport. In this concept passengers are transported to and

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from the building to the parked airplane. The mobile lounge can also be
used as holding rooms for waiting passengers at gate positions. Airplanes are parked at gates
placed along parallel rows. Several sets of parallel parking rows can be created as increased
traffic deems such expansion necessary. This design has excellent expansion capabilities and
can maintain the pace with increased airport usage. With this concept, aircraft can be parked
remotely from the terminal buildings thus increasing the amount of aircraft enplaning and
deplaning passengers. Airplane taxiing time to and from the runway is decreased as well as the
amount of aircraft engine noise around the terminal.

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8. Airports Tomorrow
In the future, designing new airports or re-designing existing airports will be a challenge. Not
only will there be increased concern for efficient intermodality (getting passengers into,
through and out of the airport by an integrated use of transportation systems), a new look in
terminal configurations might be part of a future design. Use of underground, intra-airport
transportation systems like those found in Denver and Atlanta will probably increase. Airport
design of the future will be greatly influenced by new aircraft, new land-based and air-based
monitoring systems, land availability as well as growth and shifts in population density.

Aviation futurists predict that both larger jetliners

and VTOL (Vertical Take Off and Landing) aircraft
will fly us to our future destinations. Large
jetliners with the passenger capacity of over 600
will require a tremendous amount of thrust and lift
forces. This will result in larger engines per jetliner
or an increased number of engines per jetliner,
and a longer wingspan. What effect will this have
on runways? Runways will need to be longer as
these future jetliners will need greater starting and
stopping distances. Ground controllers will also
need to allow for wider passing zones between
airplanes moving along the ground. Taxiways may
have to be widened. Increased usage of VTOL
aircraft as well as VTOL aircraft with passenger
loads between 30 and 60 will create a whole new
look at your local airport. VTOL aircraft do not require runways, merely an unobstructed path
to a circular pad. Current airports might add an entirely new terminal to accommodate these
aircraft or communities might develop VTOL only airports for the "short-hoppers" that is,

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flights less than 1,000 miles in distance.

As NASA continues its research and development of new aviation tools for ground-based
operations and air-based monitoring, the National Airspace System will experience fewer than
before non-weather related delays. Despite the increase in air traffic, these new aviation tools
will lower the incidence of runway incursions and air-bound delays by more efficiently tracking
and routing aircraft.

As communities continue to grow

and spread out around their
airports, expansion for these
airports will become nearly
impossible. This will limit the
airport's capacity and can limit the
type of aircraft that could use the
airport. For example, if an airport
has no additional land available to
lengthen a runway for use by the
extra large jetliners predicted for
future use, then that airport will not
be able to service those routes. This
would limit the amount of
passengers that could be served at
that airport despite the fact that the
surrounding population has
continued to increase. If that airport
is not allowed to expand, then an additional airport site will need to be found, perhaps leaving
the older airports to accommodate the smaller aircraft and/or converting to VTOL aircraft with
the newer, larger airports accommodating the extra large jetliners.

Population growth in some areas along with shifts in population to other areas will also
influence an airport's design and location. As major metropolitan areas have little vacant land
on which to expand an existing airport or to accommodate an increase in population, smaller
cities are experiencing new and rapid growth. As these smaller cities continue to grow, their

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need for expanded air transportation will result in the establishment of a new airport or
expansion of the existing one. The current conversion of closed military airfields can also
provide air traffic relief for such growth spurts and population shifts.

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Airport Design Tutorial Page 9 Page 1 of 1

9. Closing
The airport is a complex hub of transportation. It
services passengers, baggage and cargo while
monitoring air and ground vehicles. The first one
hundred years of flight have witnessed a
tremendous amount of change in aircraft and the
airports that support and service them. The airport
is a zone for transitioning passengers and cargo
from the land-based transportation network to the
air-based transportation system. Airport design
influences airport capacity, safety and efficiency of
operations on the ground and in the air.

http://quest.arc.nasa.gov/aero/virtual/demo/design/tutorial/tutorial9.html 5/4/2010