Role of the Airport

  • Introduction

    There are usually two very different perspectives that can be identified when describing the role of an airport. The first is from a traditional aviation perspective, which is focused solely on the operation and function of the airport with the intent of moving aircraft into and out of the airport. The second is a much broader perspective in which the airport fills many roles beyond the traditional aviation function and is also an integrated member of the local community. This secondary function, which is often an ancillary thought to both airport managers and owners as well as the local community as a whole, needs to become a more commonplace understanding to develop community support. Both of these perspectives are explored in more detail with a purposeful emphasis on the community aspects in this toolkit.

  • Understand: The roles of an airport in the community and the national aviation system.

    It is often said “when you’ve seen one airport, you’ve seen one airport”. This points to the fact that to begin understanding the role of your airport you can become familiar with three federal planning studies that present the primary functions of an airport, what activity is occurring, and how it fits into the larger regional and national context. Over half of the public-use airports in the United States appear in the NPIAS, and those airports that primarily serve GA functions also appear in General Aviation Airports: A National Asset (ASSET 1) and possibly in ASSET 2: In-Depth Review of the 497 Unclassified Airports (ASSET 2).

    Individual states also participate in the planning process and produce their own statewide airport system plans. These plans frame each airport in the context of its role within a state, rather than at the national level, by creating state-defined classifications for their airports. You can locate and use state system plans to assist with determining the role of an airport at the individual state level.

    At the local level there are many roles of the airport. Understanding these roles gives further context to the overall functionality of the airport. Although providing air service or a place for corporate and recreational flying are commonly understood uses, numerous aviation and non-aviation roles and services are provided by airports to their communities and are discussed in the toolkit.


    • Airport Roles According to NPIAS: Learn how the NPIAS is used by the FAA to classify airports of significance to the national air transportation system. [Details]
    • General Aviation Airports – A National Asset: Understand how the FAA conducted a further review and classification of GA airports identified in the NPIAS through the ASSET 1 and ASSET 2 reports. [Details]
    • State Airport System Plans: Learn how individual states conduct airport system planning and how to use these plans to identify airport roles. [Details]
    • Safety and Security Roles of the Airport: Learn the roles of the airport with respect to community safety and security provided by airports, airlines, TSA and CBP. [Details]
    • Aviation Services to the Community: Understand what role the airport plays in providing services to the community through aviation related activities, operations and businesses. [Details]
    • Non-Aviation Roles in the Community: Understand what non-aviation roles the airport has in the community. [Details]


  • Explore: How does your airport fit into the specific local and regional context?

    Every airport has a role in a broader regional context within the community it serves. This extends to not only the aviation community but also to a much larger system that includes the airport as an economic engine, an emergency service provider, an educational institution and the list goes on. As outlined in the Understand section, the specific roles that an airport takes can be dependent upon its infrastructure, operational activities and even its geographic location in relation to other airports. At the same time, each airport also has a role as part of the community. That role is defined in part by its relationship with the community. In some cases, the relationship between the airport and the community is carefully cultivated while in other instances, the airport and community may barely co-exist.

    Explore the current role of your airport. Find out if your airport is in the NPIAS or ASSET reports and discover what this indicates about the role of your airport. Next, use this section to explore farther and find out the role your airport is currently fulfilling in the community and a larger regional context.


    • Identifying Your Airport’s Classification: Learn how airports are classified in the NPIAS and ASSET reports, and how to find out if your airport is included in these reports. [Details]
    • Organizational Roles at Your Airport: Discover how the roles of the airport itself are defined not only by users and staff at the airport, but influenced by community individuals and organizations. [Details]
    • Determine the Aviation Roles of Your Airport: Explore the current aviation roles of your airport. [Details]
    • Determine the Non-Aviation Roles of Your Airport: Explore the current non-aviation roles of your airport. [Details]
  • Take Action: Begin conversations with the community and change existing plans or systems.

    A much greater emphasis needs to be put on the role that an airport can serve in the broader community because airports can often be seen as an organization separate from the community. It’s important to understand how the airport may appear to be separate or distant in order to frame the conversation about building a relationship between the airport and the community. The following outlines some of the methods that can be undertaken to develop the relationships that are fundamental to the creation of a more well received and understood airport in the local community.

    Use the topics presented in the section to: learn how to act on the classification of an airport in the NPIAS, and what could change its status; recognize airport advocates and make new connections to the community through the many roles of the airport; and reach out to the community and tell the story of your airport.


    • Changing NPIAS Classification: Discover actions and changes that could result in reclassification of the airport in the NPIAS report and how to reflect this in community roles. [Details]
    • Airport Advocates and Supporters: Identify and find supporters and advocates from the many airport roles. [Details]
    • Identify Community Connections: Consider additional roles for the airport that could provide new connections to the community and identify champions to advance ideas. [Details]
    • Telling the Story (Media Kit): Understanding the role of the airport is a starting place to being able to tell the story. [Details]