Non-Aviation Roles in the Community

In addition to aviation operations, airports have non-aviation roles in the community. Although generally thought of as places of aviation activities only, airports frequently provide non-aviation services to their users and community through several methods. This role is crucial to demonstrating that the airport is more than just an aviation-related entity. There are physical and social perceptions of the airport that can alienate the broader community, and promoting the non-aviation role can often bridge the gap between the two.

In part, this perception is created by physical access restrictions that are needed for safety and security purposes. These include fencing around the airport perimeter and the secure area in the terminal building. While these may be necessary to address the changing times, they do create both a physical and visual boundary between the airport and the community.

The perception of separation is also created when people feel the airport is only for “others” or a “playground for rich people.” While this is often used to describe GA airports, the perception that the airport is only for other people can be true at commercial service airports as well. While lots of people in the U.S. travel on commercial airlines, some never do. At GA airports, private aircraft serve important roles for business travel, flight schools, and aviation related businesses, but these activities may touch only a small percentage of the total community population. A perception of the airport as an isolated facility can develop when people see the airport as only providing services to others or a perceived “small group”.

To change this perception, the airport might explore their non-aviation role in the community. Doing so allows the public to realize the benefits of the local airport and gain awareness of its advantages to everyone. Using the airport to host events and meetings, or more permanent uses such as industrial manufacturing or an aviation museum, shows the community that its airport is a valuable resource for many. See the list below for common examples of non-aviation uses and roles of airports.

  • Industrial Parks and Other On-Airport Economic Activities
  • Large areas of flat, undeveloped land are usually found near airports. This can provide economic opportunities for airports to generate revenue while serving a role in the community. One common use is agriculture. The low-growing nature of crops is a perfect match with airports, and allows farmers to use airport land to plant more crops and use land otherwise left vacant at the airport. Some airports may elect to develop land at the airport. Industrial and commercial land uses are often compatible with airports and aviation. Industrial parks provide jobs and tax income, providing an economic boost for their communities. See the information and case studies presented in ACRP Report 47 Guidebook for Developing and Leasing Airport Property and ACRP Synthesis 25 Strategies for Reuse of Underutilized or Vacant Airport Facilities.

  • Tours
  • Tours of the airport are a way that people can visit an airport and learn about all of the different activities occurring at the airport. Tours are a way to build relationships with elected officials, community groups, and school groups and are usually arranged upon request.

  • Restaurants
  • Restaurants located at an airport can provide another reason for people to visit the facility. These venues usually offer a view of the runway and airport operations. Community members who patronize the airport’s restaurant often have a connection to the airport and support the restaurant’s business operation. At GA airports, recreational fliers might eat at the restaurant, or it might provide an informal meeting place for local pilots and be the destination for a recreational pilot. These facilities can also serve as meeting locations for other pilots or groups they may be associated with. ACRP Synthesis 25 Strategies for Reuse of Underutilized or Vacant Airport Facilities gives more information on repurposing vacant airport spaces for new uses, such as restaurants.

  • Meeting Space
  • If the airport has a terminal building or an FBO that offers space to host events or meetings, this may be a viable option to bring people to an airport. This practice can be a one-time event in conjunction with a group tour or a more regular use of space. For example, using airport conference rooms for monthly community group meetings or hosting local business groups for a meeting are both ways an airport could benefit from providing meeting space. These events can get local community members to the airport when they might not otherwise visit the site.

  • Hosting Community Events
  • The airport can plan events that are open to the public, such as an annual open house, a fly-in event open to aviators and the public, or a larger air show or balloon festival. These events frequently bring individuals from the broader community to the airport that would otherwise not come to the airport for any other reason. It is important to note that these types of events must be conducted within FAA regulations and public safety standards. The FAA National Aviation Events Program website offers information and guidance for airport event planning.

  • Awards and Scholarships
  • The airport can connect with the community by offering awards and recognition and can also offer scholarships to local students or grants to community groups. These programs can offer an opportunity for positive publicity for the airport and can also be a reason for groups to visit the airport.

  • Hands-on Participation
  • Airport managers and employees are community members and may choose to donate time and energy to activities in the community. This may include participating on local boards and taking part in local volunteer programs. The airport affiliation may not be the reason for the volunteer effort; however, volunteers with an airport affiliation can provide a communication pipeline between the community and the airport and volunteer efforts demonstrate an interest by airport staff in the local community.

  • Museums and Public Art Galleries
  • Airports are excellent places for museums, especially aviation themed. Larger areas of land and vacant hangars can provide an opportunity for museums of all sizes. Aviation museums often have “living” displays (aircraft that still fly) and can be based at the museum. Art galleries are another common sight at airports, especially commercial service airports. It is an excellent way for artists to showcase their work to a large audience while providing passengers a mental break from their travels and opportunities to view art as part of their time in the terminal.