FAA’s New Portal will Help Clean Up Databases and Airspace Over Time

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently launched upgrades to its online database system that stores safety-critical information, such as airspace obstructions and runway data, as well as non-safety critical information, such as airport layout plan mapping. This data is generated by firms such as ours when we work on runway extensions, runway reconstructions, aeronautical surveys and even master plan updates. This data is key for the FAA’s Flight Procedures Office (FPO) to maintain flight procedures to safely navigate aircraft at and around airports and for airport sponsors to build and maintain base map files.

These upgrades are reflected in the new Airport Data and Information Portal (ADIP), which is an expansion of the Airport Geographic Information System (AGIS). This update started with the incorporation of the Modification of Standards tool, which became required for use on March 31, 2018. The most recent updates include the availability of legacy data from previous surveys, which has always been difficult to track down, and multiple obstacle databases that have now been consolidated into one—the Obstacle Authoritative Source.

Why the Change?
Obstacle data entered into the FAA’s system over the years has become unreliable, as the data can reflect locations and heights of features before they are constructed, or even projects entered into system during the design phase that were never built. As recently as four years ago, FAA databases had more than 30,000 unverified obstacle locations logged for airports across the U.S. That number will steadily decline with these long-overdue improvements and as more aeronautical surveys are conducted across the industry.

There also has been a great deal of duplication in the FAA’s databases, primarily from a lack of access to legacy data. For example, you may find two separate coordinate sets for a single 200-foot tower—the first location based on the tower’s design location and height before it was built and the second based on the actual 3D location of the built tower. When you don’t have legacy data in hand when performing an obstruction survey, you don’t see that the tower is already in the database, and you collect a new 3D position for it. That information gets dumped into the database and now you have multiple positions for the same tower.

This duplication can impact a runway’s approach minimum or result in a non-standard flight pattern. The FAA Flight Procedures and Airspace Group utilize the accuracy code assigned to any obstacle in the system and are required to increase the factor of safety distance around an obstacle based on this accuracy code. If this obstacle is a legacy obstacle that was not verified, airports and users may not even know about the obstacle and flight impacts until the new flight procedure is published—and then it’s too late.

OAS and Legacy Data
For the past four years, Woolpert has been incorporating legacy obstacle data into the obstruction surveys we perform for airports and consultants across the nation. While that’s currently not a requirement, it should be. Prior to the new ADIP system, getting that information was an arduous task. Previously, we would reach out to the FPO and request that obstacle data—typically for a 5-nautical-mile radius around an airport. This legacy data enables us to reference an existing obstacle number for a tower or any obstacle and reference it within our deliverable. We also update the position of a tower if it’s inaccurate, rather than creating a second point in the database, or remove the position if it’s not actually there. This process has led to a considerable amount of obstacle verification and database cleanup within the airspace around airports in the National Airspace System.

ADIP enables airports and their consultants to obtain legacy data information without having to coordinate with the FPO or knowing who to call to get past reports and surveys. In many instances, there is a considerable amount of existing information that can be utilized on current and future projects that can save the sponsors and their consultants time and money. Most are aware that airport surveys that meet FAA requirements are comprehensive, often take considerable time to complete and directly impact operations.

Completed Aeronautical Surveys Now Available
One of the more recent updates to ADIP includes a “View/Download Completed Surveys” function. This function makes previous surveys at the airport available and enables the reuse of Navigational Aid, Runway or other information. It further maximizes efficiencies and, for airports where just an update is needed, it can generate tremendous cost savings on the aeronautical survey set to take place.

While the current version of the portal only allows final vector (i.e. CADD) files to be downloaded, there are discussions about making imagery, lidar and final reports available as well, of which I am a strong supporter.

The improvements to the FAA’s system will save money and time, while directly addressing the problem of duplicate features in a database. Although there are still improvements to be made, it’s great to see that positive, constructive changes are being incorporated into these processes, and that the FAA/AGIS/ADIP support teams are focused on improving the system.

Eric Risner

Eric Risner PS, IAM, PMP, is a senior associate and aviation geospatial practice leader at Woolpert. Risner has been an aviation consultant focused on supporting the planning, design, construction and ongoing management of airport infrastructure assets through geospatial technologies. He has worked at the firm for 12 years.