ACC-FAA Summer Workshop

by Mary Ellen Eagan

I attended the Annual ACC-FAA Summer Workshop last week.  It’s one of my favorite conferences, and I’m not just saying that because I’m the Vice Chair of the Workshop this year (and likely Chair for 2011).  I think the thing that makes the workshop so valuable is its focus on informal, collaborative discussion, rather than presentations.  In fact, we have a “no-PowerPoint” rule, which I think is key to the quality of the discussions.  [While we’re on the subject, for an interesting rant against PowerPoint, see Edward Tufte’s article in Wired.]

Source:  Edward Tufte, The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint

Source: Edward Tufte, The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint

The conference has a number of general discussions to open, followed by four concurrent workshops: Planning, Environment, Security and Safety, and Engineering.  I’ve tried to briefly summarize below.

The Hot Topics with FAA and TSA focused on updating attendees on recent happenings in Washington, from which I learned:

  • Robin Kane, TSA Assistant Administrator/Chief Technology Officer indicated that although TSA checkpoint screening throughput is significantly lower than desired, it is not because of advanced imaging technology, but more a result of all the extra bags folks are carrying on because of checked baggage fees.
  •  Ben DeLeon, FAA Acting Deputy Associate Administrator for Airports reported that FAA obligated the last ARRA grant by December 30, 2009.  To date the FAA has exceeded other DOT agencies in outlays, with close to 68% of the funding already spent. Most other agencies have spent only 30 to 40% of their ARRA funding.

 There was also a general session on Airport Sustainability, moderated by Suzanne Geckle of CH2M HILL.  Speakers included:

  • Ben DeLeon of FAA updated attendees on FAA’s sustainability pilot program, which will shortly announce a number of airports that will undertake Sustainable Master Plans or “traditional” master plans with sustainability elements.
  • Matt Harris of San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, described San Diego’s participation in the Global Reporting Initiative’s Airport Sector Supplement, which will allow airports to develop consistent techniques for providing transparent sustainability reporting.
  • Cyle Cantrell of the City of Chicago’s Department of Aviation described their sustainability efforts, including its Sustainable Airport Manual and Airports Going Green Conference
  • Eric Dillinger of Jacobs provided some provocative insights, and emphasized that the industry will embrace sustainability only when it sees significant cost savings.  He focused on the need to identify an airport’s “Sustainability Investment Profile”, which defines the airport’s or airline’s expectation for return on investment for sustainability initiatives. 

The ACC Agency Best Practices Award for 2011 was given to FAA for its handling of ARRA.  Ben DeLeon accepted the award on behalf of the agency.

As you can imagine, I spent most of my time in the Environmental Workshop, which was organized and facilitated by Tom Klin of CH2M HILL, the ACC Environmental Committee Chair for 2010.  We had five productive sessions, including:

  • SMS: This joint session with the Planning Committee focused on the need for airports and consultants to develop Safety Management Systems – The bulk of the discussion revolved around the differences between the internal FAA SMS and the external or airport-specific SMS requirements.  There seems to be a fair amount of confusion amongst airport sponsors about the differences between these two types of SMSs and their consequences to the airport community.  Here is my attempt at clarifying this issue: the internal FAA SMS is already in the implementation phase and is required from all FAA lines of business.  The FAA Airports division is currently working on identifying how the SMS will be implemented throughout their day-to-day operations and how, if at all, it will impact existing requirements and guidance for airport sponsors.  The airport- specific SMS is a concept that was introduced by ICAO and the FAA is currently working through a pilot program to identify the extent to which airport-specific SMS are effective and useful at various airport types and sizes.  The FAA has not yet decided whether airport specific SMSs will be required, recommended or remain voluntary. 
  • NEPA Streamlining Lessons Learned:  Marla Engel of VHB facilitated an interesting discussion of the two streamlining projects conducted at Philadelphia International Airport.  Panelists included Sue McDonald (FAA Eastern Region/Harrisburg ADO), Mike Kenney (KB Environmental), and David Full (RS&H).  My takeaway:  every project can benefit from a strategic communication plan, and it is critical for high profile projects, even in the absence of streamlining requirements.
  • NEPA Document Quality Control: TJ Schultz (Executive VP, ACC) and Ralph Thompson (FAA Office of Airports) facilitated this discussion, apparently in response to feedback from FAA reviewers in regions regarding inconsistencies in quality of NEPA documents.  Of primary concern was the quality of documents prepared by firms that do not specialize in aviation environmental issues, and may produce only one NEPA document in several years.  TJ recommended all ACC members review the AASHTO report Improving the Quality of Environmental Documents.
  • NextGen Initiatives and Near-term Environmental Consequences:  Our own Bob Miller facilitated this discussion, and I will refrain from talking about how great a job he did (though a non-HMMH participant declared the session “Best Ever!”), except to say that there was a lot of lively discussion.  Lynn Ray (FAA ATO) discussed FAA’s plans to conduct a systematic analysis of NextGen implementation across the NAS, with focus on 20+ metroplex areas over the next five years.  Tom Cuddy (FAA AEE) and Fred Bankert (MITRE) discussed efforts to develop NEPA guidance for evaluating NextGen initiatives.
  • Hot Topics:  This last session provides a general review and update on a number of issues, and was led by Ed Melisky of FAA.  Topics included: migratory bird MOA and wildlife hazard issues, AC 1050 Update Status, Catex Guidance, ELG Update, and recent CEQ guidance on greenhouse gases.

I’m looking forward to planning the conference for 2011.  If you have any suggestions, please let me know!

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