FAA Releases General Aviation Classification Report

The FAA recently released results of a study report that aims to classify general aviation airports. The study, entitled General Aviation Airports: A National Asset, will assist FAA and state aeronautical agencies with future planning decisions.

FAA’s National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS) currently contains a total 3,330 airports, heliport and seaplane bases.  Of these, 378 are considered primary airports with annual enplanements greater than 10,000 passengers each year.  The remaining 2,952 landing facilities are primarily used by general aviation aircraft and are often referred to as general aviation (GA) airports. Included in this group are 121 airports that support scheduled air service with 2,500 to 10,000 annual passenger enplanements.

Over the past 18 months the FAA has extensively reviewed these GA airports to better understand their diverse functions which often include disaster relief, aerial firefighting, law enforcement, search and rescue, as well as medical flight. 

The study proposes classifying 2,455 GA airports into four new categories based on aviation activity.  They include national, regional, local and basic. National classification (84 in total) is described as serving national and global markets with very high levels of both jets and multiengine propeller aircraft and averaging approximately 200 total based aircraft.  Regional classification(467 in total) serve regional and national markets with high levels flight activities comprised of both jet and multiengine propeller aircraft and average 90 total based aircraft.  Local classification (1,236 in total) entail serving both local and regional markets with moderate levels of multiengine propeller activity and average 33 based propeller driven aircraft. Finally, basic classification (668 in total) serve local and regional markets with moderate to low levels of flight activity and average about 10 propeller aircraft.

The study could not establish a defined category for the remaining 497 GA airports. However, the FAA will begin working with airport and state aeronautic divisions later this year to identify the activities at these airports and subsequently issue further classification(s) in the near future.

Future development of GA airports included in the NPIAS will continue to be based on eligible and justified needs and priorities, with the new categories providing FAA a more consistent framework within which to evaluate proposed projects. Moreover the four new categories will be incorporated into the Fiscal Years 2013-2017 NPIAS, which will be issued later this year.

The report also raised important investment and regulatory questions that will require further examination.  They include whether current or amended Part 139 regulations should be extended to higher activity general aviation airports, how AIP funds can be used most effectively, and whether all GA airports be held to the same grant assurances as other airports.