Eugene Airport Sets Ambitious Master Plan

Eugene Airport Sets Ambitious Master Plan
Mike Schwanz
Published in: 

Many airports create master plans for future development, but the roadmap recently commissioned by Eugene Airport (EUG) in Oregon takes the process to an entirely new level.

The extensive document analyzes, justifies and phases significant facility improvements to accommodate the fast-growing demand for increased air service in the Eugene community. The plan took 22 months to prepare, and the guideposts it contains are designed to help the airport move forward for decades. 

“We last did a master plan about 10 years ago; but since then, we have seen significant growth in traffic,” says Airport Director Tim Doll. “We expect that growth to continue, so we knew we had to come up with a plan not only for the next 20 years, but with recommendations on what we could do even as far as 40 or 50 years out.”


Project: Master Plan Development

Location: Eugene (OR) Airport

2018 Operations: 64,393

2018 Enplanements: 585,640

Master Plan Completed: Aug. 2018

Expected Implementation: Early 2020

Consulting Cost: $1.3 million

Forecasted Cost for All Projects (20-yr Horizon): $227 million

Main Consulting Firm: RS&H 

Public Involvement & Communication Consultant: Cogito

Landside Roadway Construction: Curtis Transportation

Economic Development: Econorthwest

Environmental & Transportation Planning: HMMH

Local Environmental Planning: Pacific Habitat

Aeronautical Surveys: Woolpert

Key Benefit: Detailed analysis of needs & costs for all categories of airport development, with specific timelines for meeting needs

The planning process required the input and hard work of many people, he adds. After a standard bidding process, the airport chose RS&H consulting firm to help create its master plan.

 “From the initial detail-oriented planning conference to the wrap-up meeting at the end, the airport and consulting team worked collaboratively to create a living document that wouldn’t just gather dust on a shelf,” Doll states. “This master planning process also focused on environmental responsibility and sustainability with several additional studies including an energy audit, a recycling reuse and water production plan, a solar energy feasibility study and an economic development study—all in tandem with the FAA’s move toward sustainability master plans. A document with solid visioning while addressing current challenges, built collaboratively, was key.”

Plan development started in October 2016. The first step was to set several benchmarks, including: 

  • airport stakeholder visioning; 
  • inventory of existing conditions; 
  • FAA-approved forecast of future aviation demand; 
  • assessment of facility requirements needed to meet demand; 
  • development and evaluation of alternative options for required facilities; and
  • implementation and finance planning to describe development phasing, timing, estimated costs and funding mechanisms for airport improvements. 

Getting input from all stakeholders was a vital part of the project, Doll emphasizes. Two formal groups provided guidance throughout the process: a Citizen Advisory Committee, composed of local community leaders and other local/regional airport stakeholders; and a Technical Advisory Committee, which included key airport users, airport staff and other aviation experts. Public workshops were held at two critical milestones in the master planning process to present compiled data, solicit public input on preliminary development alternatives, and ultimately present the preferred airport development plan. “The feedback offered by many different groups in the Eugene community was very important,” says Doll. “We wanted everyone to feel we were all working together to improve the airport.” 

Keeping Up with Growth 

A key element of EUG’s master plan was forecasting facility requirements throughout the property. The need for new or expanded facilities is often driven by capacity shortfalls that leave an airport unable to accommodate potential growth or maintain a desired level of service within existing facilities. 

“Our technical analysis provided a deeper, more defensible, and clear direction for the implementation of future facilities at the airport,” says RS&H Project Director Michael Becker. “In a community such as Eugene, which has experienced significant annual growth in commercial passenger traffic, the real value in airport facility planning comes from providing practical and implementable solutions that offer flexibility as demands change over time.”  

The Airport’s Role

During the master planning process, stakeholder groups unanimously agreed that the airport’s primary role in the community is to serve commercial passengers. With that understanding, a future land use vision was developed, and facilities were organized as either leading or trailing elements. The airfield is the leading facility, because its design is highly dictated by terrain, predominant wind patterns and mix of aircraft using the airport. 

The airfield is then followed by the commercial terminal, which was deemed essential to the overall Eugene community. Terminal building design is driven by its connection to the airfield and landside facilities as well as operational needs and the desired passenger level of service. The terminal landside and access roadway system connects passengers to the terminal entrance. The design of this system is driven by passenger mode choices, vehicle design and the configuration of the terminal building. 

Finally, airport support facilities need to be located and designed to be compatible with leading facilities while maintaining and optimizing operational safety and efficiency. Analyzed support facilities include airport administration and maintenance, fuel storage, airport rescue and firefighting, air charter, air cargo, deicing and various forms of general aviation infrastructure.

Airfield Configuration Changes

While improving the airfield is one of EUG’s most daunting near-term challenges, adding more pavement was not the most practical solution. The runway and taxiway system has undergone generations of airfield infrastructure projects patched together over time, Doll explains.

Most of the airport’s existing facilities are oriented around a historical airfield configuration, which creates awkward angles and inefficient use of available land. While the two parallel runways provide enough capacity to satisfy future aircraft operational demand through the planning period, the supporting taxiway system is unnecessarily complex and ineffective for several different aircraft user groups. This was one of the first challenges Doll and his staff wanted RS&H to address.

“The airport started in 1943 as a military base. Pavements were fragmented,” Becker explains. “Back in the 1940s, there were four different runways and lots of taxiways going in different directions. It was a real hodgepodge.”

Planners consequently configured the future airfield around the main runways that were accommodating the two most demanding aircraft using them: the Boeing 737-900 and Bombardier Q400. The 737 is a heavier and faster aircraft, but the Q4 has a much wider main wheel configuration, which makes taxiway design a bit tricky. That had to be factored in. 

“We also had to look at land use,” Becker elaborates. “For example, cargo operators need a lot of open space for their aircraft to maneuver, and the space must be configured so their delivery trucks can approach the aircraft. In the passenger terminal area, we must preserve room for the planes, jet bridges, passenger circulation, vehicle parking and access. The air traffic controller must be able to see the airfield. Therefore, we had to figure out where to place support facilities, maintenance areas and other support buildings without obscuring their view.”

The RS&H planning team collaborated with local air traffic controllers, airport staff and key user groups to identify areas where pavement should be removed and areas where new pavement could streamline the airfield, improve airfield connectivity and strengthen the system’s operational efficiency.

Accommodating Bigger Crowds 

Despite recent improvements to baggage claim, concessions, holdrooms and the TSA screening checkpoint, EUG’s terminal faces pressure stemming from continuing increases in passenger demand. 

The RS&H team recommended additional concourse expansion. In order to expand the passenger terminal, airfield construction was necessary to improve taxiway safety and provide remain-overnight parking pads to meet interim demand. 

The new concourse begins the strategic process of reorienting the terminal facilities to align with the airport’s ultimate vision of developing passenger facilities in between the runway system.

In addition to identifying developments for the passenger terminal, analysis revealed a need for additional auto parking for customers, improved roadway access safety, expanded rental car facilities and solutions to address congested curb activity during peak times. 

Financial Projections & Implementation

“Planning for planning’s sake does no one any good,” Becker comments. “A functional implementation plan must begin at the onset of the project.”

Throughout the process, RS&H planners worked with designers and financial analysts to move potential concepts through the full range of implementation steps to create realistic solutions.  

“We had around a dozen associates from our company involved at some point or another, including architects, engineers and financial planners,” recalls Becker. “Then, including the airport staff and other stakeholders, we probably had about 30 people involved in the development of this plan. We obviously did not have meetings with all 30 people all the time, but we were in constant communication with various stakeholders. There was always some sort of a project-related discussion occurring. We held conference calls, video chats as well as many in-person meetings.”

Beyond customer demand, the team considered other drivers for new or improved facilities, such as updated FAA standards, an evolving strategic vision for the airport, the replacement of outdated or inefficient facilities that are prohibitively costly to maintain or modernize, or the desire to introduce new services and facilities. The facility requirements analysis uses forecasted aircraft operation and passenger enplanement demand levels to define Planning Activity Levels (PALs) that trigger the need for investment to accommodate user demand in a way that maintains acceptable levels of service. 

The implementation plan provides a roadmap for airport development by:

  • providing a phasing plan for 5-year, 10-year and 20-year planning horizons;
  • updating the airport’s 20-year Capital Improvement Program (CIP);
  • providing rough order-of-magnitude cost estimates for all CIP projects; and
  • describing justifications, sequencing and triggering demand levels for short-term projects. 

Implementation planning and financial planning were coordinated to provide a realistic, achievable development plan. Like other airports, EUG is required by the FAA to operate in a self-sufficient manner, so no municipal tax dollars are used to fund airport operations or capital development. The total CIP program, including adjustments for inflation, is estimated at $227 million over the 20-year planning period. More than half of the program’s funding is anticipated to come from the FAA Airport Improvement Program. Remaining funds are expected to come from a mix of airport revenues, passenger and customer use fees, municipal bonds and external private funds. A small portion of project funding is not yet assigned. (See pie chart on Page 69.)

Nearly 60 individual projects were identified and divided into three phases. (See chart on Page 66.)

Short-term development (slated for 2018 to 2022) begins by focusing on airfield safety projects. Improvements continue for Taxiway A, and Runway 16R-34L taxiway connectors will be relocated according to analytical modeling and FAA design guidance. The terminal area airfield and apron are determined a priority to prepare for the construction of a new terminal concourse. Expansions are also programmed for the terminal airline ticketing and outbound baggage handling areas. Landside projects were designed to improve roadway safety, parking capacity and fuel storage security, all of which serve dual roles as they begin the process to enable terminal concourse development. Other projects in the short-term period fulfill environmental requirements, replace or repair aging infrastructure and provide planning and phasing to enable future airfield projects. 

Mid-term development projects (planned for 2023 to 2027) will further improve airfield safety through a pull-off run-up pad located near the threshold of Runway 34L and taxiway connector improvements serving the secondary runway. New general aviation mid-scale and larger hangar development will be directed toward a dedicated area north of Taxiway C, separate from commercial airline activity. Landside improvements, land acquisition and a master plan update are also programmed during the mid-term phase. 

Long-term development (tentatively scheduled for 2028 to 2037) continues the airport’s investment in airfield safety through routine pavement rehabilitation, various airfield geometry improvements, a ground vehicle tunnel under taxiways C and M, and land acquisition to protect the Runway 16L Runway Protection Zone. Future development of the new concourse and surrounding apron is programmed to meet expected demand levels and begin the reorientation of terminal facilities to align with the parallel runway system. Additional long-term projects include navigational aid enhancements, parking and rental car infrastructure investments, and deicing facilities. 

“Knowing any decisions we made now will impact the airport negatively or positively into the future, we were careful to look further out than the 20-year look of the master plan,” Doll says. “The consulting team had us look well out, 40 to 50 years in the future, and what the needs of the community might be at that time.”

The improvements suggested in the first phase, known as Planning Activity Level 1, are prioritized. “We have to reconfigure the taxiways and runways in the next five years to comply with FAA requirements,” Doll says. “Fortunately, we already have budgeted for that, as part of our Capital Improvement Program. In fact, some of that work already has begun, such as removing the high-speed taxiways and replacing them with perpendicular taxiways requiring a 90-degree turn on or off the runway.”

Full Approval Pending

In retrospect, Becker says that input from airport staff and the onsite fixed base operator was key to creating a sustainable picture of development that meets EUG’s current challenges without sacrificing future needs. “This project was a success because of everyone working together,” he remarks. 

Though certain master plan projects such as runway and taxiway improvements already have been funded and are under construction, the Eugene City Council must still adopt the complete master plan. Once that occurs (likely later this fall), many of the other projects recommended in Planning Activity Level 1 will start in 2020, Doll adds. Some of the next Capital Improvement Program projects scheduled include finishing the rehabilitation of the full length of Taxiway A, additional realignment of Runway 34-16L and a terminal area improvement that includes a Concourse C build-out.

“This plan will be invaluable for us, and will be a blueprint we can follow for many more years,” Doll concludes. “It also is good for the city, because the city council members will know what projects have to be funded for at least the next 20 years. While no one can predict the future, we are confident that all of the projects listed in this master plan are valid and will eventually be done.”  


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