FAA weighs in on runway specs

 - August 6, 2008, 6:46 AM

The comment period closed last month on an FAA notice of proposed policy making on airport weight-bearing restrictions (www.gpoaccess.gov/fr/index.html  “search line” number 15495). The proposal drew most of its response from those opposed to the FAA setting such standards. The proposed policy represents the FAA’s attempt to develop its own standardized weight-bearing specifications for airport runways, taxiways and ramps as opposed to accepting airports’ numbers at face value. The agency has no set timeline on when it expects to render a decision on the proposed new policy.

The proposal comes in response to the ongoing debate between Boeing and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey over restrictions against aircraft greater than 100,000 pounds at Teterboro Airport (TEB), N.J., operated by the Port Authority. Despite a call for support within the aviation industry from Boeing, the wide majority of public comments came from Northern New Jersey residents who opposed the FAA proposal, fearing that the airport ban on larger aircraft could be overturned.

The proposed FAA policy is an effort to create a national set of consistent standards for runway/ taxiway weight-bearing capability. Airport geometry or noise considerations are not taken into account in the policy. Though Teterboro has had its 100,000-pound restriction in place for decades, the precise engineering data for the restriction is ambiguous, at least according to Boeing, which commissioned its own engineering study. The Boeing study determined that the airport pavement would have no problem handling a BBJ.

To date, official specifications for weight-bearing capability at airports (as published in the airport facilities directory–or AFD) have been supplied to the FAA from the airports themselves, with no clearly identified standards for determining the limits. While taking issue with the Teterboro case in particular, Boeing further argues that ambiguity could lead other airports to cite unsubstantiated engineering data as a means of discriminating against aircraft for other reasons, such as noise. According to the Chicago-based manufacturer, the implications of defeating the policy reach well beyond the issue of local control of BBJs at TEB.