Airport Master Plan Projects Modest Growth Through 2038

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Airport

Chatham Municipal Airport.  FILE PHOTO

This is the second of a two-part series on the Chatham Airport Master Plan Update.

CHATHAM – The future needs of Chatham Municipal Airport outlined in the draft master plan update depend on the growth of the facility over the next 20 years. To forecast that growth, airport planners had to choose from a number of formulas that examine future aviation demand.

Some of the formulas, most based on similar general aviation facilities, show modest growth, while others show higher growth or no growth at all. A number of factors complicate the process, including the fact that Chatham is an uncontrolled airport, with no tower and therefore no accurate historical use figures.

A review of the draft master plan update appears to show that total operations at the airport dipped substantially between 2007 and 2017. However, until 2015, the number of operations were estimated by airport personnel and under FAA guidelines stayed level unless otherwise specified. That year the GARD operations counting system was implemented which allowed a more consistent count of actual operations, and the numbers dropped from 25,000 a year to about 21,000.

“That's not a perfect system either,” said Matthew Caron of Gale Associates, the consultants working with the airport commission on the master plan update. Pulling together different data and scenarios provide a better picture of expectations.

To analyze future trends, the consultants looked at three alternative growth scenarios. The Federal Aviation Administration's Terminal Area Forecast (TAF) serves as the agency's standard benchmark of an airport's future activity and for FAA planning, according to the draft master plan update. They also looked at the FAA Aerospace Forecast, a national forecast for towered airports, as well as fuel consumption forecasts and operations per based aircraft forecasts, which uses both the historic TAF operations and Massachusetts Department of Transportation Aviation Division figures for aircraft based at Chatham Airport.

The TAF projects no growth for Chatham, which isn't realistic for several reasons, according to the report. The number of aircraft based at the facility has been relatively steady for a number of years, with all 39 existing hangar spaces occupied; nearby airports such as Hyannis, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket also have limited available hangar space. Other aircraft owners have indicated they'd be interested in renting additional hangar space in Chatham, the airport manager reported, and the master plan includes plans to build more hangar buildings.

The flat growth is also below the regional and national average annual growth of 0.6 percent, according to the report, including Hyannis (forecast to grow at an annual rate of 0.9 percent through 2038), Martha's Vineyard (0.9 percent) and Nantucket (0.1 percent).

Fuel consumption records also suggest greater growth at Chatham, with fuel sales indicating operations will increase by an average annual growth rate of 1.77 percent through 2038.

Using historical records, MassDOT figures show the number of operations per aircraft based in Chatham increasing by an average annual growth rate of .08 percent over the planning period.

The FAA Aerospace forecast looked at aviation industry trends and developments in the aircraft field. It shows a national increase during the planning period of 0.9 percent. When that is applied to the Chatham Airport user groups, total projected operations increase by 0.3 percent, according to the draft plan.

The increase in fuel sales (from 26,000 gallons in 2007 to 31,000 gallons in 2017) and the demand for hangar space indicate continued growth, and the steady, conservative 0.3 percent growth in the FAA Aerospace Forecast is “more accurately aligned” with anticipated regional growth, according to the report. That's the growth projection that Gale Associates recommended be applied in assessing the capacity of existing facilities and required improvements for the future.

“We felt Chatham was more in line” with the projections for towered airports, “rather than just being flatlined,” Caron said.

There would still have to be further assessment of actual demand before any of the recommendations in the plan are carried out, he added.

“We're not going to go out there and build something based on this forecast,” he said. The FAA requires that airports show justification before funding projects. “The FAA doesn't work on an 'if you build it, they will come' basis,” he said.

“It's the growth that drives the projects, not the projections,” Caron said.

The master plan draft also includes estimates of peak activity at the airport. It's no surprise that approximately 65 percent of annual operations occur from May to October, with 20 percent during August alone. In 2017, the total annual operations were 20,100, with 4,020 happening in the peak month, an average of 130 flights per day. There were 19 flights during the peak hour. Projecting out to 2038, the total annual operations are estimated at 21,331, with 4,266 in the peak month, with 138 on the average day. Peak hour flights rise to 21.

According to the report, local operations account for about 40 percent of flights, with 60 percent from itinerant aircraft. Sixty percent of the aircraft using the airport are single-engine fixed wing; 20 percent are turboprop planes; 10 percent are multi-engine fixed wing; 9 percent are helicopters and 1 percent are jets.

The airport commission will hold a public meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 12, at 5 p.m. at the community center to address questions and take comments about the master plan update.