The National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS), Airports Capital Improvement Plan (ACIP), Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), and AWOS

In September of 2019 the Federal government combined The National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS) and the Airports Capital Improvement Plan (ACIP) into one single order NPIAS-ACIP. The order reduced redundancy and streamlined two federal programs essential to airport development. The two programs, which originated individually in the year 2000, are now joined under Order 5090.5 which made the ACIP a subset of NPIAS and the primary financial planning tool for management of the Airport Improvement Program (AIP).

Weather is one of the greatest challenges facing airports in the 21st century. As air traffic increases with modern airplanes becoming bigger, faster, and more technologically complex, airports must stay one step ahead in managing them and keeping the flow of air traffic seamless and orderly. This task become extremely challenging during periods of inclement weather at an airport where high air traffic levels have already placed stress on the system. Accurate weather data is crucial to an airport and air traffic control, as a single adverse weather event can cause havoc and mounting delays.

Between the years 2008 and 2013 over 69% of delays lasting longer than 15 minutes were caused by weather, amounting to more than 10 million lost minutes in 2013 alone. These delays not only have a ripple effect on the air traffic flow throughout the global airspace, but cost thousands of dollars in lost revenues. An hour-long delay costs air carrier operators between $1,400 and $4,500 depending upon the class of aircraft and whether the delay was on the ground or in the air when it occurred, and that’s not the end of it. Travelers also suffer the added expenses of delays when the value of travel time is included, a personal travel passenger adds an addition $35 per hour loss and $63 for a business travel passenger.

Airports can do nothing to control the weather, but they can do something to understand, gather data, and disseminate accurate information to pilots and air traffic control, giving them the best chance of keeping an airport running safely and as efficient as possible. When it comes to gathering and disseminating meteorological reports at an airport, an AWOS system is indispensable. AWOS offer automatic minute-by-minute updates of the weather conditions around them. Their readings can help lower minimums and allow for better management of air traffic which means more aircraft are able to safely land and take off from your airport during periods of inclement weather as well as handle redirected overflow traffic from neighboring airports impacted by serious weather incidents.

An AWOS system can be expensive to purchase and maintain, and many airports seek out support from the Federal government through the AIP. When applying for a grant from the AIP, it is important to know both whether your airport is listed in the most recent publication of NPIAS (2021-2025) as well as whether the grant you are applying for qualifies under the current five-year plan which is updated and published every two years.

As part of the current five-year plan the Federal Aviation Administration is in the final phase of implementing an ambitious modernization program of America’s air transportation system. This program is known as the Next Generation Air Transportation System, or NextGen. One of the many goals of NextGen is improving the weather architecture of America’s airports and dissemination of weather data into the National Airspace System (NAS). As part of this sweeping program, Automated Weather Observing Systems (AWOS) play a key role.

The National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS)

The first step in applying for a grant from the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) is to verify that your airport is listed in the most recent publication of NPIAS. The National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems identifies over 3,000 existing and proposed airports which are included in the NAS as well as the roles which they currently serve. NPIAS includes all commercial service airports and all reliever airports. NPIAS also includes select publicly owned general aviation airports so long as they meet certain criteria, as well as a very small number of private airports. Only airports which are listed in NPIAS qualify for grants from the AIP. To qualify for recognition from NPIAS an airport must be both open to the public and publicly owned. If an airport is privately owned it must either be designated by the FAA as a reliever or have scheduled service and at least 2,500 annual enplanements.

Through the ACIP, NPIAS also identifies the types of development eligible for Federal funding under the AIP over the next 5 years as well as the amount of development which will need to take place. Estimates of these findings are published every 2 years. Since many of America’s airports were built to accommodate older, relatively small and slow aircraft by comparison to today, many upgrades are now required to bring an airport into compliance with modern design criteria from the FAA. Many additional factors beyond upgrades, repairs, and additions to an airport are considered when composing the ACIP. An airport’s capital development needs are driven by current and forecasted traffic, use and age of facilities, and changing aircraft technology, all of which require airports to update or replace equipment and infrastructure.

Modernizing America’s airports is crucial to national transportation demands. According to the 2020 census, over 95% of the US population live within 30 miles of a primary airport. When you include general aviation airports into that statistic, 99.7% of the population live within 30 miles of a NPIAS airport. This means that for over 60 million rural Americans, an airport is the only method of providing critical access to National transportation they have.

The Airports Capital Improvement Plan (ACIP)

The Airports Capital Improvement Plan (ACIP) is the internal document produced by the FAA every year. This document serves as the primary planning tool for identifying and prioritizing critical airport development within the NPIAS. As a result, the plan also serves as the criteria for distribution of grant funds under the AIP.

Since the demands on infrastructure, technology, and weather elements vary drastically from region to region, the National ACIP is produced annually by the FAA Airport Improvement Program Branch based upon the reported information of the nine Regional Offices. Each of the nine offices prepares their report based off individual airports or state airport planning agencies anticipated developmental needs over the next 3 to 5 years. The nine FAA Regional Airport Offices include:

 

  • New England Region
  • Eastern Region
  • Southern Region
  • Great Lakes Region
  • Southwest Region
  • Northwest Mountain Region
  • Western-Pacific Region
  • Alaskan Region

 

Since demand for AIP grants is so great, the ACIP must find a way to prioritize requests both throughout the individual regions as well as the long-term national goals of the FAA. Therefore, emphasis is placed on funding highest priority projects identified throughout the country. This means that while something may be eligible for an AIP grant by AIP guidelines, a project must also qualify under NPIAS-ACIP criteria to be considered for one. So, while an AWOS system is eligible for funding under the AIP guidelines, how do you know if it is covered by the current ACIP and therefore eligible under NPIAS for an AIP grant?

NPIAS 2021-2025

The most recent NPIAS publication was released on September 30, 2020, for the years 2021 through 2025. It includes 3,304 existing airports, 6 proposed airports, and estimates 43.6 billion in AIP eligible and justified projects, an increase of $8.5 billion (24%) from the NPIAS issued 2 years ago. Of the listed airports, 98% of them (3,244) are owned by public entities while only 2% (60) are privately owned. 1,776 public use airports were not included because they do not meet the entry criteria of NPIAS.

Given the crucial role which NPIAS airports serve in connecting Americans with national transportation, it is important to keep them operational and functional. To that end, the FAA has a series of design standards many aging airports no longer meet as aircraft have improved and air traffic increased. Making these upgrades and bringing airports up to modern standards currently accounts for 27% of NPIAS anticipated funding needs and roughly $11.8 billion, an increase of over 263$ million from the last published NPIAS. These developments include:

 

  • Strengthening, widening, narrowing, relocating, or extending runways and taxiways and their associated lighting to provide greater clearance for aircraft with larger wingspans and improve confusing taxiway layout areas.
  • Expansion of existing or construction of new aprons to accommodate wider aircraft.
  • Acquiring equipment including snow removal, deicing, weather reporting – including AWOS for compliance with NextGen, and approach lighting and guidance systems.
  • Constructing buildings for equipment primarily for snow removal equipment or aircraft hangars

 

Since an AWOS system is part of the FAA design standards for the modern airport, those included in the NPIAS should have a working system. Purchasing a new AWOS or upgrading/replacing an older system meets the development category criteria for the 2021-2025 NPIAS.

Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen)

Work began in 2007 on one of the most ambitious infrastructure and modernization projects in U.S transportation history. Led by the FAA, the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) is a series of interlinked programs, portfolios, systems, polices, and procedures which are designed to upgrade and make improvements to the operation of the NAS. With America’s 20th century airports feeling the burden of 21st century technology and aircraft, the plan was rather than make minor upgrades to aging infrastructure, it would be better to implement major new technologies and revitalize America’s interaction with the NAS in one sweeping revitalization program. The goals of the NextGen project include:

 

  • Increase the safety, efficiency, capacity, access, flexibility, predictability, and resilience of the NAS.
  • Examine, understand, and reduce the environmental effect of aviation.
  • Manage air traffic through Trajectory Based Operations (TBO) with strategic planning, managing, and optimizing of flights.

 

NextGen plans to have all major components in place by the year 2025. One of the key programs of NextGen is NextGen Weather Program whose aim is to reduce the impact of weather on aviation as it is predicted that more accurate and timely weather data could help prevent as many as 2/3rd of weather delays and cancellations.

Common Support Services – Weather (CSS-Wx)

Part of the new Weather Architecture being implemented under NextGen is the Common Support Services – Weather (CSS-Wx) which will be the single provider of weather data, products, and imagery within the NAS. The program aims to improve the quality of traffic management decisions and reduce controller workload during severe weather occurrences.

Sensors input data in CSS-Wx from AWOS and ASOS systems via the Weather Messaging Switching Center Replacement (WMSCR) and the AWOS Data Acquisition System. The data will then be sent to the NextGen Weather Processor (NWP) which centrally produces domain-wide weather products for dissemination to NAS consumers. The program is scheduled for operation in 2023.

CSS-Wx uses internationally recognized data access and data format standard and offers many improvements going forward.

 

  • Facilitates consistent weather information.
  • Increases NAS weather access.
  • Reduces interface development costs.
  • Reduces infrastructure and bandwidth costs.

Looking to the Future with Mesotech

Not only are America’s airports aging, but their AWOS systems are as well. If it is time for your airport to replace or upgrade an old system, Mesotech is ready to assist you. A new or replacement AWOS is not only eligible for an AIP grant and meets the NPIAS criteria, but it is crucial to the future of aviation and weather technology and will allow airport staff to better manage air traffic flow not only when it’s a clear and calm day but when adverse weather conditions bog you down. Mesotech’s Airport Weather Advisor® has over 25 years of experience and services all USAF fixed weather base systems. Trust us with your airport’s first or replacement AWOS system.

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