This semester has been one long lesson into all things airport operations related. When I am not at school taking such classes as Airport Operations and Aviation Administration Decision Making, I am at the Lexington airport soaking up knowledge from my airport operations internship. I have never had a semester where I felt I experienced and could apply the material I was learning in such a way as this. I have been extremely blessed with my internship and the amazing professors at Eastern.
In a strange way, my lessons outside of the classroom have lined up perfectly with the lessons in class more times than I can count. For example, we had a lesson about airport wildlife management at school and then during my time at the airport that day we encountered birds, deer, and checked the wildlife traps. My coworkers are very good at turning things we encounter into learning moments, so I have heard countless stories and gotten hands-on experience with a lot of things my classmates are only reading about.
During this awesome semester I have learned a few airport facts that truly surprised me. I gathered my top five to share here.
1. Airports make an enormous percentage of their revenue from parking
I was surprised to find out that of the overall revenue that airports acquire, non-aeronautical revenue accounts for nearly half of the total. This exact number of their non-aeronautical revenue is 44.8%, according to one study. Parking and transportation alone contribute to 41.2% of the total revenue, putting it in a category of its own. This is one of those facts that make sense if you think about it, after all airports almost always charge for parking and thousands of cars come through every day. Several major airports also contract out parking. Companies will bid on a parking contract and whoever wins is in charge of parking at that airport. This seems to be efficient for both the airport and the parking companies.
2.TSA is under a microscope
Nobody particularly enjoys going through TSA, and it often seems ridiculous to have to remove your belt and shoes to not be a threat to national security. However, one fascinating thing I have learned is that TSA often gets tested themselves. The TSA inspector will occasionally send volunteers, usually new airport employees who have not been seen by TSA yet, though the TSA security line with explosives or other prohibited items stashed in their carry-on. In some cases, they will even strap the prohibited substance to the bodies of the volunteers to see if the TSA screener can find it that way. The supervisor on shift is made aware before testing begins so they will be prepared and not let the screener call airport police on the volunteer. Thankfully Lexington has been extremely successful in their testing, but other airports have not been so lucky.
3. Airports send birds to The Smithsonian
Whenever there is a bird strike and the airport cannot discern the species of bird, they must send DNA to The Smithsonian. That can be feathers, a sample of the bird guts, or both, depending on the state of the animal when they are found. The Smithsonian then analyzes the DNA to accurately identify the species of bird, and returns that information to the airport to include in their wildlife strike report.
4. Airport record keeping is insane
One thing I instantly noticed about working in operations is that there are dozens of large, thick binders filled with papers that they are constantly referencing, updating, and archiving. The airport is required to keep certain records for up to two years. That means that even if someone hasn’t worked at the airport in a year and a half, they still have a massive binder dedicated to them with all of their training records. Other binders include the unofficial version of the airport certification manual, dozens of maps of the airfield, badging applications, and many more that I have not yet seen. Someone could easily spend days reading these binders and not see half of the material the airport keeps on hand.
5. Airport expansion is very complicated
Commercial and GA airports alike face a number of challenges when it comes to growth. Many communities do not understand how great aviation can be for their local economy, so they oppose runway expansion projects and even the simplest changes to the airport. I found it particularly interesting using Lexington as a case study, as their airport is surrounded by horse farms owned by some of the biggest names in horse breeding and racing. It would be extremely difficult for them to expand because of the value of the land around them. Airports constantly have to balance growth with community relations, far more than several other industries.
I hope that you have learned at least one interesting fact by reading this article, and I can’t wait to learn more as I become more knowledgeable on airport operations! It is a whole world of intricacies and innovations that I am lucky to be part of!