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Using GIS for Local Government Management of Airspace Obstructions and Airport Land Use Compatibility


Airspace obstructions and incompatible land uses constitute some of the major threats to an airport’s safety and the public investment in them. Managing these risks is particularly challenging since they require the involvement of stakeholders, particularly local governments, beyond the airport boundary. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the aviation industry has assisted these local governments with policies, guidance, and tools, such as the Obstruction Evaluation/Airport Airspace Analysis (OE/AAA) process, model height and hazard zoning ordinances, aviation easements, and Part 150 noise studies.
At times these local policies and tools are enacted as “one time” events, such as an airport compatible land use zoning ordinance or avigation easement. In other words, these policies are captured in the abstract on paper, but are not always accompanied by sufficiently detailed procedures and workflows for day-to-day evaluation and management of these issues. These airport-related matters are particularly challenging to manage because they often involve specialized knowledge in complex three-dimensional airspace surfaces and other aviation planning criteria. This can especially be a burden to less-populated jurisdictions such as small municipalities and rural counties that do not have the staff, knowledge, or other resources to sustainably manage airspace and land use compatibility. It is typically outside of many such local governments’ normal planning, zoning, and permitting procedures. These governments may have to rely on outside assistance such as airport staff, consultants, state aviation agencies, or the FAA itself, to properly evaluate a proposed development against airspace or airport compatible land use standards. At worst, these local “paper policies” are forgotten by local government staff and may not be implemented consistently.
The emergence of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) as a planning technology in the past decade gives some of these local governments the opportunity to enhance their airspace and airport-compatible land use evaluation capabilities, providing more automated and timely results for permitting decisions. Many if not most local governments are using GIS in some form already, and these capabilities can be extended to encompass airport-related land compatibility use evaluation tasks. Even small jurisdictions have obtained GIS technology either through desktop licenses for a few thousand dollars or less, or use GIS services provided by organizations such as regional councils of government (COGs). However, guidance for local governments on better integrating these GIS and related technology tools for aviation-related land use purposes is limited.
Integrating these modern information technologies into local governments’ day-to-day planning, zoning, and permitting processes, in order to support aviation-related land use matters, could significantly expedite decision-making and produce better results. GIS, in particular, is well-documented as suitable platform for community planning, but has not been significantly demonstrated as such in managing airport land use compatibility. Research is needed to assist local governments in using GIS to help protect safety, health, quality of life, and public investments related to airports in or near their jurisdictions, particularly if the airports in or near them do not have GIS capabilities themselves. Having this guidance will help local governments and related stakeholders reduce the time, budget, and effort to make time-critical aviation safety and planning decisions. Public investments in airports can therefore be better protected from encroachment from incompatible land uses. This topic is particularly important and urgent because of recent FAA initiatives related to airspace obstructions and compatible land use: (1) FAA-sponsored aerial surveys to support new WAAS LPV and related satellite-based instrument procedures. These have been done even at the smallest general aviation airports, often ones in jurisdictions with little aviation knowledge. The surveys have highlighted obstructions that may not have been noted or tracked in the past. (2) Significantly increased FAA enforcement against violations of the 20:1 TERPS visual area surface, resulting in night-time instrument procedures being cancelled. This can seriously reduce the utility of an airport be limiting the time when aircraft can safely land under inclement weather conditions. These violations are being noted in part because of the WAAS surveys noted above. The FAA itself is deploying a tool on its AGIS platform to coordinate obstruction mitigation with airport sponsors, but does not address airspace obstruction evaluations for new proposed structures from the local government permitting side. (3) Increased awareness and policies regarding airport-compatible land use, including incidents such as US Airways Flight 1549, UPS Airlines Flight 1354, and guidance such as Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP) Reports 38 and 27, current FAA Advisory Circulars on wildlife hazards, the interim FAA policy on Runway Protection Zone (RPZ) land use evaluations, and the forthcoming FAA Advisory Circular on Land Use Compatibility, which will replace the current one regarding model height and hazards zoning ordinances. (4) Outside the FAA, most GIS implementations for airspace obstruction and compatible land use evaluations appear to be with larger commercial service airport owners and to a lesser extent with state aviation agencies, often with the support of consultants. There are building and zoning departments at local governments that may already use some form of GIS for airspace and airport compatible land use evaluation tasks, but there is no nationwide guidance as to their implementation. Smaller airports do not have internal GIS capabilities and primary responsibilities will fall onto surrounding local governments to generate, use, and manage airport-related GIS data.


To develop guidelines and best practices for using GIS for airspace obstruction and airport land use compatibility evaluation at the local government level, particularly in support of aviation-related zoning ordinances and easements. Special emphasis would be place on jurisdictions around smaller airports without their own GIS capabilities, and using GIS to help protect public investments in those airports. The deliverable(s) could be provided by airport owners, their consultants, and related entities such as state aviation agencies to local jurisdictions affected by airports.


This would provide local governments with information necessary to make better decisions about land use and protect their airports and airspace from limiting encroachments.

Related Research:

ACRP Synthesis 11-03/Topic S03-07, Integrating Airport GIS Data with Public Agency GIS [ Active / Report Development In Progress ] Relevant scope: Specifically addresses GIS usage for airport-related purposes by local governments, in the context of airports sharing/integrating their own GIS data with local governments’ GIS data. The scope mentions Part 77, obstructions, land use, noise contours, etc., potentially relevant to this problem statement. However, while the project will provide valuable guidance to local governments in using airport-oriented GIS data, the scope assumes airports already have their own GIS data to be shared. It does not appear to address situations where the airports have no internal GIS system to begin with, as is generally the case with small (e.g., non-hub) commercial service airports and general aviation airports.

Local governments in these cases will have to rely on their own GIS systems, typically in planning, zoning, and building permitting departments, and cannot depend on the airport per se. Consultants working on behalf of these smaller airports, if they are generating GIS data, would often need to provide such data directly to relevant local governments. As such, local governments would need specific guidance on generating, using, and managing their own GIS data to support airport-related policies such as obstruction and land use management, without direct assistance from their respective airports.

ACRP Report 27, Enhancing Airport Land Use Compatibility, Mead & Hunt [Completed with Report] Relevant findings: Comprehensive, detailed 3-volume guide and research on airport compatible land use. The report is the most comprehensive and most recent documentation of airport compatible land use. There is extensive guidance as to local government policy and procedures regarding land use management, and case studies do briefly mention GIS. However, there is no guidance as to potential implementation of GIS-based procedures for local governments.

ACRP Report 38, Understanding Airspace, Objects, and Their Effects on Airports, LeighFisher [Completed with Report] Relevant findings: Similar to ACRP Report 27, this is a comprehensive guide regarding airspace obstruction management, including local government policies and procedures to support airspace safety. GIS is mentioned largely in the context of FAA aerial survey standards, and several figures use local GIS source data. Again, however, there is no guidance as to potential implementation of GIS-based procedures for local governments.

ACRP Report 39, Recommended Guidelines for the Collection and Use of Geospatially Referenced Data for Airfield Pavement Management, Applied Research Associates [Completed with Report] Relevant findings: Integration of GIS with airport maintenance & capital planning, but not airspace- and airport-compatible land use by local governments.

ACRP 04-11, Integrating GIS in Emergency Management at Airports, Barich, Inc. [Completed – Final Guidebook in editing/publication] Relevant findings: Integration of GIS with airport operations, but not related to airport land use by local governments.

Web GIS and Knowledge Management Systems: An Integrated Design for Collaborative Community Planning, Brad C. Mason (Community Mapping Network, Canada) and Suzana Dragicevic (Simon Fraser University, Canada) [Completed 2006] Relevant findings: Addresses similar GIS and workflow issues as this problem statement, but for collaborative community planning, not specifically for aviation-related purposes such as airspace obstructions or compatible land use.

A Web GIS collaborative framework to structure and manage distributed planning processes, Suzana Dragicevic, Shivanand Balram, Journal of Geographical Systems, June 2004, Volume 6, Issue 2 Relevant findings: Conceptual-level analysis of GIS and related technologies for collaborative planning with themes similar to this problem statement, but not a practice-ready document such as produced by ACRP. Does not address aviation-related matters.


Interim deliverable – Issues & Overview Report:

• Review & summary of importance of airport compatible land use • Aviation land use policy impacts to local governments o FAA: Airspace / Flight Procedures o Grant assurances: height, hazard, and compatible land use zoning; land and easements • Current Policies, Procedures & Guidance o Obstructions: OE/AAA, Flight Procedure Development o Part 150 Noise Studies / Noise Contour Development o Local Land Use Policy Guidance: Model HHO / Forthcoming LUC AC, RPZ evaluations o Other land use measures: land & easement acquisition, master planning / ALP's Final Deliverables –Implementation Guidelines: • Determining workflow o Needs and Priorities o Minimum requirements for software (including free/web services) o Staff requirements in-house, consultant, outside government agency o Integration / Collaboration issues with FAA, state governance, other local policies/laws • Potential Software Solutions that could fulfill need(s) o Acquire GIS license (if applicable); obtaining or creating relevant dataset(s) o Free web mapping tools / Google Earth o Partner with other government agency (airport owner, COG, state aviation agency, etc.) o Private third-party hosted service • Sample Specifications / Case Studies o Small jurisdiction (e.g., rural county with GA airport): in-house developed airspace layer o Medium jurisdiction (e.g., suburb near small- or non-hub): noise contour overlay in GIS o Large jurisdiction (e.g., large city adjacent to airport): land use permitting workflow • Maintaining airport-related GIS data & services o consistency with ALP, airport zoning ordinance, instrument procedure criteria, o continuous communication with stakeholders: FAA, airport owner, state, etc.


Relevant to local governments, airport authorities, and airport managers.

Sponsoring Committee:AV020, Aviation System Planning
Research Period:12 - 24 months
Research Priority:High
RNS Developer:Mihir P. Shah, PE, AICP, South Carolina Aeronautics Commission
Date Posted:12/05/2015
Date Modified:09/25/2016
Index Terms:Airport operations, Airspace utilization, Best practices, Geographic information systems, Guidelines, Land use planning, Regulations, Local government,
Cosponsoring Committees: 
Administration and Management
Data and Information Technology
Planning and Forecasting

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