Sky’s the limit: Get the most from your airport capital improvement plan

In the aviation industry, planning is key. To position your airport to compete for future funding and best use the funding in hand, you must form a smart strategy. An effective capital improvement plan (CIP) can be challenging to develop, but its significance to your airport’s development and the surrounding community can’t be overstated.

A CIP is one of the products of airport planning, usually developed during the master plan process and updated annually. The CIP identifies airport projects, defines funding requirements and helps pinpoint the applicable funding types. While the airport layout plan illustrates facility improvements, the CIP further defines the projects in the airport’s overall program of facility improvement, repair and maintenance projects. The CIP must balance funding constraints, project sequencing limitations, environmental processing requirements, agency and tenant approvals and coordination processes, business issues and airport sponsor preferences.

Developing a CIP can feel a lot like putting together a Christmas list for Santa. You may need new shoes, but you really want that new bike. You may need a new backpack, but you really want that new video game. You may need that T-hangar taxilane rehabilitation, but you really want that new runway extension. You may need to save up a few years of entitlement funding to complete that airfield lighting rehabilitation, but you really want that new apron expansion.

So, how do you balance those needs and wants for your airport?  Here are some areas to focus on when developing your airport CIP:

Include wants and needs

Imagine the possibilities! Your airport CIP should include near-term (one to five years), medium-term (six to 10 years) and long-term (11-plus years) projects. It should include projects that are eligible and ineligible for Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funding. This will provide a balanced approach for seeking available federal and state funding, as well as envisioning privately funded development opportunities. Diversifying project funding types will also position your airport for future development and community impact. As the aviation industry incorporates renewable energy sources and advanced air mobility capabilities, airports with a forward-thinking CIP that includes many project and funding types will be well prepared to meet today’s needs and realize tomorrow’s wants.

Front-load airport needs

Needs should always trump wants in near-term planning. “Needs” can be defined differently, but should, at a minimum, include maintaining infrastructure with a focus on airport operational safety, security and efficiency. As required by federal statute, the FAA Airport Capital Improvement Program emphasizes using AIP funding on the highest-priority projects. The FAA gives the highest priority to projects that enhance safety and security at airports. Other major objectives are achieved by awarding AIP funds to projects that maintain airport infrastructure and increase or support facility capacity. This priority should be reflected in every airport CIP. It may feel like you’re missing out on opportunities today, but the reality is your airport will be better prepared for the future.

Sequence long-term airport wants

Proper sequencing for long-term “want” projects can go a long way toward bringing them to fruition. This includes funding sequencing, environmental approval sequencing and implementation sequencing, as well as demand sequencing. Demonstrating the need and telling the story are two of the most important aspects of positioning future “want” projects for available funding. This often requires stakeholder coordination and community engagement. Interagency negotiations and land acquisition may also be necessary for these projects. Putting in the proper time and effort to fully sequence these “want” projects in detail can be the determining factor in seeing them built at your airport.

Establish a budget

Each federal or state funding source typically (not always) includes a match. For FAA projects, that will usually be 10–25%. For state projects, the match could be as much as 50–60%. The airport’s master plan will include a projected financial plan for the 20-year horizon, but airport sponsors will need to work within their annual budgets to make sure that each capital project is financially achievable.

Kyle Dorf is an aviation civil designer for Hanson. He can be reached at