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ACRP Guidebook of Practices for Improving Environmental Performance at Small Airports

First-of-its-kind guidebook demystifies small airports’ environmental compliance requirements and highlights opportunities for sustainable operations ACRP Guidebook of Practices for Improving Environmental Performance at Small Airports

Managers of the nation’s thousands of small airports have long faced the daunting task of complying with federal environmental requirements while dealing with limitations in staffing and environmental expertise. To ease this burden, the Airport Cooperate Research Program (ACRP) contracted Gresham, Smith and Partners to create the Guidebook of Practices for Improving Environmental Performance at Small Airports, with the primary goals of raising awareness and providing tools for implementation. Through an abundance of graphics and concise language, the Guidebook provides a basic overview of environmental regulations and practices that can be easily understood, no matter the experience level. The GS&P team relied on its extensive experience in aviation environmental services to plan the groundbreaking Guidebook, which promotes practices that offer opportunities for small airports to improve environmental performance and save money.


Transportation Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences Airport Cooperative Research Program Market

Environmental Compliance Services

Environmental Planning Environmental Engineering Sustainability Compliance Assessment


John A. Lengel Jr., P.E. Principal Investigator

Robert W. McGormley Project professional

Devon E. Seal, P.E. Project coordinator


Cheryl A. Shafer, P.E.


Jane Ahrens, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, O+M Laura W. Fiffick, P.G. Regan Packowski Kyle L. Russell, P.E., BCEE


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hat is the purpose of the Guidebook?

How unique was the endeavor for the Transportation Research Board (TRB)?

Rob McGormley: The purpose is to promote environmental awareness, identify applicable federal environmental compliance requirements, outline practices that proactively enhance environmental stewardship, and identify resources and tools that small airports can use to be proactive. We also sought to identify the differences in the environmental programs of large and small airports, particularly with regards to funding. We worked to understand what some of the smaller airports’ real limitations are in terms of overall awareness, and the level of knowledge and expertise of airport staff.

Rob: The Guidebook is a first-of-itskind comprehensive environmental resource document that offers value to the aviation audience interested in improving environmental performance. The TRB selected the Guidebook as a pilot document for its new expedited report publication process because they recognized the immediate value to the industry. How did you begin the development of the Guidebook?

We wanted to describe complicated regulatory programs associated with everyday airport operations in layman’s terms, and how to convey the technical and economic viability, as well as environmental benefits, of proactive environmental stewardship practices to small airport managers struggling to keep their airports open.

Rob: After carefully defining the audience, we provided the TRB with a clear vision of what the Guidebook would look like. We started by reviewing the federal regulations and then provided a summary of our findings to TRB’s Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP) panel. We then crafted a data collection and evaluation plan. Throughout the process, subject matter experts and subconsultants VHB and KB Environmental Sciences provided strength in various technical areas.

Devon Seal: Essentially, we were tasked with creating a guidebook with just the right amount of detail for the small airport manager who might not know anything about environmental compliance, but realizes the importance and wants to learn.

We then went through a process of identifying various practices and determining whether or not they actually were suitable for small airports. For instance, if a practice required six full-time staff members to implement, it wasn’t feasible for a small

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Associated Activities Matrix: The matrix directs readers to the sections of the Guidebook most applicable to them based on the types of activities conducted at their airport. The matrix serves to make a 350-page document much more accessible for an audience that already has limited resources and staff.


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“...a critical CliffsNotes for Federal Regulations.”

airport. Ultimately, we created a database of these various practices and screened them down to those that were deemed applicable. Devon: We interviewed airports to confirm and supplement, where necessary, the database of environmental stewardship practices. The airport interviews included airports of different sizes that also represented different geographic locations within the small airport spectrum. We focused on understanding costs, staffing requirements, and operations and maintenance requirements. We also focused on benefits of the practices most applicable to small airports. The interviews validated our research and added credibility to our findings. Were there any previous experiences that helped you prepare?

John Lengel: Yes, experience gained through our various environmental compliance projects with the Columbus Regional Airport Authority, the Indianapolis Airport Authority, Roanoke Regional Airport, and Jackson-Evers International Airport where we experienced several different environmental compliance situations. Jill Lukehart: We’ve worked extensively with these clients for many years. We’ve completed environmental compliance audits, stormwater and oil spill prevention designs and

plans, sat in on regulatory negotiations at the city and local level, and provided guidance on various environmental alternatives the airports could develop. John: During those experiences, we learned a lot about how small airports operate, how they procure services, and what factors are important to them. We translated these observations into how the Guidebook addresses the regulations. Did you rely on any of these previous relationships during the creation of the Guidebook?

Rob: Absolutely. Throughout the creation of the Guidebook, we worked with our current and previous small airport clients in a couple of different ways. We went back to some of them for the interviewing, and also to get an idea of how to shape the research questions. We also wanted some geographic representation, so we contacted airports from California to New York, down to Florida, Texas, and the Midwest. Why was it necessary to gather information from such a broad geographic area?

Rob: We wanted to understand the various issues geographically, and to make sure that we captured those as we created the Guidebook. It helped us focus our research.

Jill: For example, typically on the east coast and in the Florida area many of the regulations are heavily focused on wetlands. Therefore, the potential for impact from that is greater than, say, in the Southwest. Groundwater issues are usually more prominent out west, and deicing is more of a concern in northern climates. Rob: Air quality would be another geographic issue. There’s heightened awareness to air quality issues on the west coast with respect to greenhouse gases and climate change precursors. Does the Guidebook cover all environmental regulations at small airports?

Jill: The regulations discussed in the Guidebook only cover federal requirements. Many states have their own environmental agencies or resource agencies, and under the project scope and budget we weren’t able to address state regulations, which can be more stringent than federal requirements. The Guidebook covers more than 30 federal regulatory programs, describes hundreds of environmental stewardship practices, and presents five detailed case studies. Rob: Creating 50 different guidebooks that include state regulations would have taken a considerable amount of funding. However, there

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“ innovative approach with great benefits for society.”

are some states pursuing their own guidebooks, such as Florida and Colorado. They are actually looking to our guidebook as a model to create a state companion document. Does the Guidebook seek to educate in other ways?

John: Unlike typical regulatory guidance that focuses exclusively on what the regulation means, the Guidebook explains how to comply with the regulation and offers options to go beyond compliance (sustainability) where long-term cost savings may be realized. Devon: The Guidebook is not only intended to help airports find ways to improve environmental performance beyond what’s required; there are non-environmental benefits that can be achieved from some of these proactive environmental stewardship practices. We included about 200 pages of identified practices, many of which would result in cost savings or other non-environmental benefits to the airport. Jill: These practices are based on our experience. We understand the rules and regulations and we understand how airports can meet them. We also know that there are other things that can be done. For example, small airports could add a fuel spill response kit right next to a fuel island, so if there’s a spill they can clean it up quickly. Little insights


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like that are helpful, and go beyond compliance. Rob: Two-thirds of the Guidebook is associated with these practices, which either help achieve a regulatory compliance requirement or reduce an airport’s potential environmental impact. They range from improving energy efficiency and using renewable energy practices, to managing hazardous waste and stormwater management practices. In many cases, small airports don’t consider going beyond compliance, because they see it as expensive. In the Guidebook, we included graphics that show relatively inexpensive solutions, as well as whether or not there’s a potential return on investment.

environmental stewardship activities. Another example is the Westchester County Airport in New York, which implemented its own Environmental Management System. Significant improvement in relationships with regulators, neighbors, and public officials were typical. One airport received a call asking where they purchased their beautiful fountain. The fountain was installed in a stormwater detention basin to aerate the water and prevent nuisance odors and bacterial growth. Are there any common threads to all of those case studies?

Devon: There are several case studies that focus on the accomplishments of individual airports. In each case study we show how a small airport can actually put together an environmental program and how, with a limited budget and limited capabilities, they can implement a successful program.

Rob: It was amazing how many social and economic benefits the airports garnered from their environmental programs. One airport saw increases in overall staff communication and morale by implementing an Environmental Management System. Another airport facilitated development of some of their non-aviation land by developing wetlands at an off-site community park. In most cases, there was usually somebody at the airport who acted as an environmental advocate and had a significant enough voice to really make it happen. And I think that’s an important piece.

Rob: One innovative case study describes how the airport in St. Augustine, Florida, was able to get support from board members and the community to initiate proactive

Devon: One of the things that impressed me was the non-environmental benefits they all got from doing this. During the process, they realized the enhanced communication

How did you use your experience to explain some best practices?

The Guidebook appendices are a toolbox of tips and ideas for implementing environmental initiatives at airports. Appendix A includes 235 Proactive Environmental Stewardship Practices, most of which go above and beyond what is required by the federal environmental regulations. Practices aimed at reducing similar environmental impacts are grouped together, so airports can choose from several options to find the practices that are the best fit for their organization. Each proactive environmental stewardship practice is presented in an easy-to-use format. A short ½-page description gives the reader a general understanding of the practice. The staffing and cost graphic facilitates a quick determination by a reader if its airport has the staff and resources needed to implement that practice, and if there are any potential cost savings associated with the practice.

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and economic benefits. They realized that having the airport seen as an environmental steward helps to establish trust in the community, which can help tremendously when trying to do other projects. What would you say has been the most challenging feature of the project?

Rob: I think that it was writing the Guidebook so that it’s useful to a wide-ranging audience. That included organizing it in such a way that somebody who is unfamiliar with environmental issues can navigate through it. And we also found a way to add value for someone that has a higher level of environmental expertise. I think striking that balance was a challenge, because from a presentation standpoint if you don’t accomplish that, then the ultimate effectiveness of the Guidebook is negligible. Any feedback now that the Guidebook is complete?

Rob: Everyone is quite pleased. This was the first project that TRB had done on an expedited delivery basis. In fact, it was published several months earlier than we planned because they felt it was important to get it in the hands of airports. Since the Guidebook was published we’ve consistently received great feedback from airports across the nation. 


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“[The Guidebook] finally provides a single source for any size airport operator… who needs to ensure compliance and seeks to be proactive in environmental stewardship.” — Marci Greenberger, Senior Program Officer, Airport Cooperative Research Program

“It will be a useful tool for anyone interested in environmental management at airports of any size.” — Robert Funicello, Environmental Project Director, Westchester County Airport

“I will be using this guidebook to implement programs at my airport(s) and I would recommend the easyto-read formatting for other ACRP documents.” — Timothy K. O’Donnell, Operations Manager, Fort Wayne International Airport and Smith Field Airport

“In every chapter I found what I needed to know and how to achieve and maintain compliance. I wish that I had this [guidebook] years ago; it would have been a huge help with issues that caused great concern at SBN.” — John Schalliol, Executive Director, South Bend Airport

The team paid special attention to layout design, understanding how daunting reading pages upon pages of environmental regulations text can be. The graphic icons help draw the eye to useful insights like the “Helpful Hint� which provides additional information or directs the reader to the appropriate case study detailing a specific airport’s experiences.

Guidebook Organization: Instead of organizing the Guidebook by environmental regulation, it was more efficient to organize it by the parts of a typical airport environmental program. Each chapter in the Guidebook addresses a specific environmental program, related topics, and the associated regulations. As an airport develops its environmental program, it can begin to group its compliance and proactive environmental stewardship practices by program part.

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Gresham, Smith and Partners provides design and consulting solutions for the built environment that contribute to the success of national and international clients. For more than 40 years, GS&P has focused on enhancing quality of life and sustainability within communities. GS&P consists of industry-leading professionals practicing architecture and engineering design as well as scientists and highly specialized planning and strategic consultants in Aviation, Corporate and Urban Design, Environmental Compliance, Healthcare, Industrial, Land Planning, Transportation and Water Services. GS&P consistently ranks among the top architecture and engineering firms in the United States.

Š Gresham, Smith and Partners 2011

ACRP Report 43 - Guidebook for Improving Environmental Performance at Small Airports  
ACRP Report 43 - Guidebook for Improving Environmental Performance at Small Airports  

©Gresham, Smith and Partners