The National Academies

ACRP 03-24 [Completed]

Guidelines for Air Cargo Facility Planning and Development

  Project Data
Funds: $400,000
Research Agency: Wilbur Smith Associates/CDM
Principal Investigator: Michael Maynard
Effective Date: 7/13/2011
Completion Date: 5/31/2015


Air cargo is a significant component of the world’s manufacturing and retail supply distribution chain in general and an important revenue source for the airport industry in particular. As a result, making long-term investment decisions regarding air cargo facilities at our nation’s airports is exceedingly important; however, these decisions can often be difficult given the complex and dynamic nature of the business of air cargo. Over time, these complexities have grown as a function of modal shift, airport access, regulatory and security compliance issues, changing economic conditions, increased sensitivity to environmental issues, changing aircraft configurations and size, and other challenges.  What often complicates the issue is that many airports use antiquated air cargo facilities that no longer meet demand or service requirements, nor accommodate changes to cargo handling procedures and evolving security requirements. As airports develop, redevelop, expand, and modernize their cargo facilities, they are finding incomplete and inconsistent air cargo activity data as well as a lack of generally accepted air cargo planning standards and design guidelines. For example, some carriers include trucked tonnage in monthly reports while others do not. Variations in reporting can affect how airports plan for and allocate space for priority on-airport cargo activity that must consider many factors: facility throughput area, storage/sorting space, aircraft parking, cargo tug lanes, ground handling equipment storage areas, landside truck docks, and overall traffic circulation. Given this complex environment, airport management requires current and accurate information coupled with effective planning and development guidelines to ensure that future airport cargo needs will be accommodated.  

The objective of this research is to develop guidelines for air cargo facility planning and development at airports, including collection of necessary data in support of this effort. These guidelines should assist airport operators in crafting effective business policies and development decisions that meet the industry’s current and future technological, operational, and security challenges in a cost-effective, efficient, and environmentally compatible manner. They should also include updated metrics to help guide the overall air cargo development planning process. The potential beneficiaries of these guidelines would include airport owners and operators, airlines, integrated cargo carriers, developers, financial institutions, and others linked to the airport community.  


Phase I

 Prepare a general description of the state of air cargo systems currently used at airports. This description should include a summary discussion of how air cargo systems work at airports and the various components that comprise that system. Define the components of an air cargo facility and describe in general terms what business models are currently in use to develop and operate air cargo facilities. Identify the users of those facilities. Assess air cargo industry trends, including modal shifts that are occurring as a function of changing economic conditions. Discuss how these trends impact airside and landside infrastructure requirements.  (2). In concert with Task 1, prepare a literature review to assess how cargo facility planning and development criteria are changing. This review should highlight select, innovative cargo facility master plans or specialized cargo facility plans that have been completed within the last 5 years and should also highlight, where possible, land use and access requirements, financial, security, environmental, regulatory, fleet changes, and other critical factors. Innovative design and construction practices, including responses to environmental and sustainability issues, should also be considered in the review process as they potentially impact relevant metrics. Prepare a technical memorandum reporting the results of Tasks 1 and 2.  (3). Collect data representative of a range of airports, identifying the type and size of facilities comprising the existing air cargo marketplace. This data will be used as a basis for developing an improved set of cargo planning metrics. Data should be gathered from international gateway, major domestic, integrated carrier hubs, and small regional facilities, and should include an inventory of cargo facilities at these airports by type, size, and throughput. This inventory should also describe the following airside and landside components: storage facilities, warehouse, and office space; processing space; specialized services (including refrigeration and climate-controlled facilities); sorting equipment; parking spaces (aircraft and truck) and gates; fueling, deicing, and other servicing facilities; ramps and docks; off-airport facilities; access and egress components; security and customs clearance facilities; and others, as appropriate.  (4). Based on the output of Tasks 1 through 3, identify gaps in current data collection and reporting procedures that affect air cargo facility planning and decision making. Assess what information is available and what is missing, and develop cost-effective strategies to fill information gaps to improve the decision-making process. In addition, describe an approach to standardizing the form and content of the information required. Prepare a technical memorandum reporting the results of this task for review and comment by the project panel.(5). Describe current approaches, tools, and techniques used to forecast air cargo demand. Describe risk analysis as applied to air cargo demand forecasting. Identify leading indicators of air cargo demand and how those indicators can be used to generate acceptable forecasts in changing market conditions. Discuss different ways to forecast air cargo activity and how that information can be used in the planning process.  (6). Define planning metrics and functional relationships that enable a translation from forecasted demand to specific air cargo facility requirements, including elements in response to environmental and sustainability concerns as appropriate. Describe the rationale behind the proposed planning metrics.(7). Prepare a planning and development framework that can be used to guide airport decision makers in planning and developing air cargo facilities. The framework should be applicable to a range of airports and facility types based on the existing conditions analysis, environmental concerns, and forecasted change. The framework should include a detailed discussion on how the Task 6 metrics can be used to determine future cargo facility requirements, and how the framework can be used to support formation and implementation of a strategic development plan. It should also include innovative and creative text, charts, graphs, photos, flowcharts, tables, and other tools and techniques. Propose a method to validate the planning and development framework. (8). Prepare an interim report that documents the results of Tasks 1 through 7. The interim report will also include an updated detailed work plan for Phase II.

Phase II

 Conduct the approved framework validation process. Refine the framework based on the results of the validation process.  (10). Based on the validated framework, develop air cargo facility planning and development guidelines that describe application of the planning and development framework, its intended use, and procedures for updating and maintaining the planning and development metrics derived through the research.  In addition to these guidelines, prepare a final report that documents all findings and components of the research.

The Guidebook and Final Report have been completed and released as ACRP Report 143.

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