The Balanced Development Approach: Planning and Promotion (Part 2)

Written by Jenny Watts, C.M.

Dibble has found planning, promotion, funding, and timing to be the four key areas of focus for airports with visionary goals for development and business opportunities. Here we explore the first two considerations—planning and promotion.


Undoubtedly the cornerstone of the balanced development approach is planning. The aviation and airport industries encompass many facets of planning, such as system planning, master planning, environmental planning, and specialty or focused planning. For airports looking to expand their development, an updated airport master plan will determine the what, why, and when.

Planning is the foresight of developable action.

In essence, a master plan assesses an airport’s current assets and facilities; projects future activity and demand; identifies deficiencies in assets and facilities; evaluates development alternatives; estimates costs and timelines associated with a preferred development; and provides options for funding the development. If aeronautical and non-aeronautical development is a key focus area for the airport sponsor, this should become an integral component of the master plan to ensure future development has dedicated space and will meet Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) design standards on the airfield. Community engagement and buy-in are also essential so the public understands the airport’s direction.

While a master plan may be the most logical place to start, an airport master plan is just the first piece of a much larger puzzle. Planning at the municipal (or county) level to incorporate airports into general and land use plans is vitally important to achieving a holistic approach to successful future development. General plans—and to a greater extent, land use, and specialized area plans—can identify strategic land adjacent to the airport property that should be preserved for land use compatibility, expansion, or future infrastructure needs.

The final piece of the puzzle may be a specialized airport strategic plan, followed by an airport business plan, to help provide a clear roadmap for the airport’s future development in becoming a profitable transportation and business hub. This is done by identifying goals, initiatives, and specific business markets considering land constraints, socioeconomic realities and trends, existing infrastructure, and resource availability.  


Visionary goals backed by the proper planning documents may be insufficient if an airport sponsor cannot properly promote the airport—the airport must also obtain buy-in from both the community and internal system. Arguably, one of the biggest challenges for airport administrators is proving their airport has value. No one will care about growing the airport if it is viewed as an urban island taking up valuable space and requiring a detour to reach one’s ultimate destination.  

This is where the concept of promotion comes in. Airports bring tremendous value to the table—they bring employment, promote tourism, generate on- and off-airport direct and indirect spending, serve as a living history museum and community point of interest, aid the overall transportation network, and so much more. Internal stakeholders—the council or board of supervisors, economic development and planning departments, and other government leaders—must be educated on the airport’s indirect and direct economic benefits, locally and regionally. They can assist the vision to achieve greater revenue generation on a path to the airport’s self-sufficiency.

People don’t care how much value your airport can add until they know how valuable your airport already is.

External stakeholders also need to be educated to achieve community buy-in. It is good to share visions of growth while being a good neighbor and proactively disseminating information on potential inconveniences such as increased aircraft noise, changes to surrounding aesthetics, or increased traffic around the airport. Small outreach efforts—such as monthly newsletters, a social media presence, a voluntary noise abatement program, a dedicated website, or open house or fly-in events—can positively promote the airport. When it comes time to grow, the community is more likely to support the airport’s efforts because they have experienced the value it adds.

Some of the most successful airports in the country, both financially and socially, have comprehensive marketing and community relations programs and dedicated personnel. While such an investment may be a tough sell for some airports that also may be competing for general fund money for maintenance and more traditional staffing, it is true that “you have to spend money to make money.” In the long run, such an investment will pay off for the airport’s bottom line.  

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Jenny Watts