Arlington Airport’s Role in the National Airport System

The National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS) is the FAA’s long-range national needs plan for aviation facilities. Airports must be included on the NPIAS for their projects to be eligible for federal and state funding. The FAA classifies the Arlington Municipal Airport as a public-use “reliever” airport in the NPIAS. Reliever airports are large general-aviation airports located in metropolitan areas that serve to offload traffic from major commercial service airports in the region. As such, the Arlington Airport’s function is to relieve air traffic from DFW Airport and Love Field. Flight operations at the Airport may include everything except scheduled passenger service, such as charter, flight training, recreational, and cargo operations. Bell Helicopter and AgustaWestland also have flight testing facilities based here, for helicopters and tiltrotors.

Jurisdiction Over Airports

The Arlington Municipal Airport is owned and operated by the City of Arlington, Texas. The Airport Manager reports to the Deputy City Manager for Economic Development. The City has direct jurisdiction over the airport; however, the Federal Aviation Administration regulates virtually all aspects of airport operation through a variety of federal regulations and contractual requirements. For example, FAA regulations do not allow public use airports to ban any specific type or size of aircraft from operating at an airport based on noise levels. It also does not permit curfews of any type without prior approval (and have granted permission for curfews at very few public airports across the nation). The FAA alone regulates flight operations in the airspace over the City; it establishes air traffic patterns, and determines the minimum altitudes aircraft may fly.

Grant Assurances

The other source of federal and state regulation comes primarily through sponsor’s obligations, commonly known as grant assurances. In order to promote a robust national airspace system, the FAA provides financial assistance to airports in exchange for commitments designed to ensure that the public interest is served. The funding is commonly provided in the form of a cost-sharing grant that generally covers 90% of a project’s eligible cost. The City has received millions of dollars in federal and state grants for Airport land acquisition, construction, planning and development projects. The grant agreement, signed by the City, requires certain commitments referred to as “grant assurances”. These assurances are federal obligations that are outlined in FAA Order 5190.6B, Airport Compliance Manual. The State of Texas obligations are parallel to the FAA obligations and accompany all grant offers from the Texas Department of Transportation Aviation Division.

Typical federal grant agreements contain over 30 of these assurances that generally relate to:

  • Preserving public use and integrity of the air transportation system
  • Providing a fair and equitable system
    • Insuring fair market pricing
    • Prohibiting discrimination
  • Promoting private enterprise and competition
  • Protecting the investment of the federal government
  • Ensuring compliance with federal regulations such as Advisory Circulars (ACs) and Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs)

These obligate the airport throughout the useful life of the asset constructed, normally 20 years. Grant assurances related to funding for Airport land acquisitions never expire. A copy of the grant assurance language, “Attachment C” to an actual grant agreement, can be viewed here. Interpretation, administration, and oversight of federal sponsor obligations contained in grant assurances are generally carried out by the FAA via its Airport Compliance Program. Currently, FAA Order 5190.6B, Airport Compliance Manual, sets forth policies and procedures for the Airport Compliance Program. It establishes the policies and procedures for FAA personnel to follow in carrying out the FAA’s responsibilities for ensuring compliance by the sponsor.

If the State of Texas determines that an Airport is not in compliance with the grant agreement, the State will first attempt to resolve the issue directly with the airport sponsor. If that fails, the State may take the following actions:

  • Require a refund of any financial assistance money expended to the Agreement
  • Declare the Agreement null and void
  • Request the Attorney General to bring suit seeking reimbursement
  • Deny Sponsor’s future requests for aid
  • Any other remedy available under the law

Takeoff and Landing Variables

Several variables can affect aircraft operations at an airport. The primary one is weather, in particular, the direction of the prevailing wind, which typically determines the direction of flight. Often buildings and trees will diminish the effects of wind in surrounding neighborhoods; however, on the open area of an airport, wind conditions can be more pronounced. Aircraft performance is increased when taking off and landing into the wind. Other variables such as temperature, runway slope, and runway length declared available for takeoff and landing can affect aircraft performance. At Arlington Municipal Airport, prevailing winds are generally from the south. According to airport traffic control personnel, approximately 80 percent of aircraft operations at the airport use the north end of the runway and take off to the south.

Another important variable that affects Arlington Municipal Airport is the adjacent airspace structure. With DFW International Airport located less than 15 nautical miles to the north, it is important for air traffic control to provide the highest level of safety in sequencing aircraft in this busy airspace system. As a result, it is ideal to limit the level of aircraft activity north of Arlington Municipal Airport, so as to not interfere with operations associated with DFW International Airport.

Noise Contours

Noise contours define areas exposed to aircraft noise based on airport-specific information, including runway configuration, flight paths, aircraft fleet mix, runway use distribution, elevation, average temperature, and quantities of daytime and nighttime operations. These inputs are used with the FAA-approved Integrated Noise Model (INM) to calculate average 24-hour aircraft sound exposure within a grid covering the airport and surrounding areas. The grid values, calculated with the day-night noise level (DNL) metric at each intersecting point on the grid, represent a noise level for that geographic location. To create the noise contours, lines linking equal values, similar to those on a topographic map, are drawn to connect points of the same DNL value. In the same way that a topographic contour represents the same elevation, the noise contour identifies equal noise exposure. The resulting contours can then be overlaid on a map of the airport and surrounding area to identify areas of noise exposure. Noise exposure contours are typically developed for 65, 70, and 75 DNL. 65 DNL is the general compatibility threshold for noise-sensitive land uses such as residences, schools, and places of worship. A copy of the Airport’s current Noise Contour Map can be viewed here.

Cargo Operations and Just-in-Time Delivery

The majority of cargo deliveries that arrive at this Airport are for General Motors. GM operates their plant under a common inventory control system known as “just-in-time” (JIT). Under JIT, a plant issues a production schedule, and maintains very low inventory levels, relying on their suppliers to deliver parts just as they are needed. GM will take bids from part manufacturers for the new models that will be going into production. This spring, some of the suppliers selected were new to GM, and had trouble meeting their required delivery schedules. This caused an unprecedented number of components to be air-shipped to Arlington, in order to keep GM’s production line moving.

Transporting these components by air is very costly. GM works very closely with suppliers to deliver parts on a schedule that allows for conventional ground transportation. During GM’s “normal” air shipment schedule, shipments arrive at the Airport only when an unforeseen disruption in the supply chain occurs, or when periods of increased activity, such as annual retooling, are required.

Flight Quiet Programs

A fly-quiet program, also known as a fly-friendly program, is a collaborative program developed in cooperation between an airport owner, the Federal Aviation Administration, various airport tenants and users, and adjacent communities. Fly-quiet programs provide guidance for pilots and air traffic controllers to use designated flight and operating procedures. Those involved voluntarily agree to use designated noise abatement flight procedures under a fly-quiet program to reduce the impact of aircraft noise. It is important to note that any fly-quiet program is voluntary, and the airport owner and the FAA do not have the ability to make this type of program mandatory. Participation from all parties is voluntary.

A fly-quiet program can be used by an airport to educate pilots and the public about airport noise. It typically includes some or all of the following elements:

  • Distribution of pilot guides which identify voluntary noise abatement procedures and nearby noise-sensitive areas
  • Periodic meetings with pilots and students to discuss safety and noise abatement issues at an airport
  • A homeowner outreach program to establish communication with the public about noise issues
  • A real estate agent outreach program to educate real estate agents and potential home buyers about airport operations
  • Airport open house events to allow the public to visit the airport and learn about its operations

The Arlington Airport currently encourages all pilots to “fly quiet”, using the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) Noise Abatement protocol.

Master Plan vs. Development Plan

Airport Master Plans are planning documents required by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). An Airport Development Plan has the land use planning components of a Master Plan, but forecasts facility needs, etc. for ten years instead of the twenty-year horizon used for Master Plans. A Development Plan also allows for a broader range of planning services, such as updates to Airport governance documents. The requested scope of services for this Development Plan includes:

  • Public workshops to obtain diverse input from airport tenants, airport commercial operators, air traffic control tower personnel, TxDOT Aviation, various City departments, City Council and citizens
  • The development of forecasts of future demand, an assessment of future facility needs, the evaluation of airport development alternatives to meet the future facility needs, and a financial plan
  • An environmental evaluation, including a noise contour study
  • An Airport Layout Plan - the set of drawings, showing current and future development, which must be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). This forms the basis for federal and state grant funding of Airport construction projects
  • Updates to Airport governance documents, including the Airport Rules and Regulations and the Minimum Standards for Commercial Aeronautical Activities

One critical component of an Airport Master Plan or Development Plan is the FAA-required Airport Layout Plan (ALP). These show current facilities, and future development, providing a guide for Airport land use. As such, the ALP displays the “what” and “where” of development. If a new hangar or a fuel farm is needed, the ALP will show the areas designated for each.