The roles airports play in their communities, in their region, and in the National Aviation System (NAS) are often misunderstood by the general public, elected officials, and business leaders. In recent years, that misunderstanding has, in many situations, contributed to a growing disconnect between the realities faced by airport management and community expectations for air service or other airport-related services and economic benefits. This disconnect has worsened with a decline in air service in many communities as evolving airline business models, high fuel costs, and less than robust economic growth have affected the industry. Recognizing these conditions, there is a growing need to provide guidance on how airports can communicate with the community and its leaders to “right-size” expectations about an airport’s role and the type of commercial air service and general aviation activity they may reasonably expect.
The objective of this research was to create a Handbook for airport professionals on how to communicate the airport’s role within their community, their region, and the NAS. Because of diversity among airports, this Handbook should address the various roles at both commercial service airports (including passenger and cargo) and General Aviation (GA) airports. As realized, the Handbook addresses the following:
a. The various roles airports play within the community and as part of the broader aviation system;
b. The most significant controversies that arise in the community as a result of confusion over the various roles played by airports as opposed to the roles played by airlines and other entities;
c. Market considerations, governance, and regulatory restrictions that limit an airport’s role;
d. A user-friendly database that incorporates information and resources supporting the various components of the Handbook, facilitating the communication process; and
e. Strategies, tools, and techniques that airport professionals can use in communicating the above to various audiences including elected officials, business leaders, and the general public.
Phase I of the research concentrated on developing the background information and a database to present that information, identifying the resources that describe the range of airport roles and the factors that help to define those roles. Gathering this information may involve various approaches, ranging from collection and review of previous related studies, to case studies, to interviews with stakeholders. In preparation for creating a Handbook in Phase II, information should be organized to allow different types of airports to select and concentrate on those resources that apply to their particular facility. The research team will analyze collected information, documenting changing patterns of aeronautical activity among different sizes and types of airports. The research team should then devise a strategy to identify those factors that generate the most controversy and misunderstanding between airport roles and community expectations. For example, controversies and misunderstandings may arise from market considerations, demographic changes, and other emerging industry trends as well as application of regulatory restrictions that may limit an airport’s role. The product of Phase I will be an interim report that includes the findings of Phase I, a detailed outline of the Handbook, and a preliminary database for further development and application in Phase II. It should also include a brief discussion of potential strategies and tools for communication that will become part of the Handbook as that product is built in Phase II. The interim report should be completed within 6 months of Notice to Proceed and will also include a refined scope of work for Phase II. The initial list of strategies will be reviewed by the ACRP Panel as part of the interim report review process.
Phase II commenced following the interim review as the research team created a set of tools and techniques along with implementation strategies that airports for use to communicate to a variety of affected parties and stakeholders:
a. Talking points to function as a community media/information kit to guide the discussions and presentations,
b. Generic-to-specific presentation materials in the form of a PowerPoint or similar electronic presentation,
c. A tool for manipulating the database derived from Phase I research data that can be applied to specific queries (users should be able to input specific airport-based parameters to generate an output report geared to that specific airport), and
d. Additional presentation and/or collateral materials for use by airports to demonstrate the concepts and applications to interested and affected stakeholders throughout the community.
The research team also included a guide to web resource and how it is to be used. This material is offered for use by those seeking more technical material to explain and build on the presentation materials designed to support communication needs with communities interested in how airports affect local and regional development..