News  |  Mar 21, 2023  |  Christyn Binder

Trending Topics & Important Resources from the 2023 AAAE ACC Airport Symposium

  • AAAE Blog

The AAAE ACC Airport Planning, Design & Construction Symposium (APDC), held annually since the early 1980s, brings together airport industry professionals to discuss the latest developments, challenges, and best practices in the field of airport planning, design, and construction.

The Arora Engineers (Arora) team was thrilled to join 1,600 of our colleagues at the 2023 APDC– the most well-attended conference in its 30+ year history! The three-day event featured experts who discussed game-changing industry developments, challenges, and opportunities around the important topics of equity and inclusion, sustainability, and technological innovation in our unprecedented era of change.

The Arora team is excited to share our key takeaways from the 2023 Symposium, along with some important resources shared by presenters to assist in the planning, design, and ongoing improvement of aviation facilities.

We are in a Golden Age of Airport Technological Innovation
The aviation technology market has exploded with an array of products, softwares, calculators, applications, and myriad of other tools that help improve nearly every aspect of airport planning, design, operation, and maintenance.

In their session Digital Twins – An ACRP Study Arora’s own Manik Arora, PE, joined moderator Zoë Fisher of Gresham Smith and fellow panelists to discuss the novel concept and practical application of Digital Twins, along with the ways they are helping airports across the world track assets, improve operational efficiency, support more informed decision making, and ultimately improve the passenger experience.

During the Plenary Session Future of Aircraft and Airframe Design we learned about exciting improvements in aircraft technology, like narrow body aircrafts that reduce emissions and improve fuel efficiency and the exploration of aircraft with longer wingspans and folding wingtips that reduce fuel burn. Onboard, new airplanes like Boeing’s 787 feature advanced filtration systems that scrub volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the air, reducing dehydration in passengers to decrease instances of jet lag.

We are seeing airports place a huge premium on sustainable technologies, like Pittsburgh International Airport who seeks to serve as a launch pad for all things green with their microgrid fueled by the area’s abundant natural gas and sunshine.

Airports and their design consultants are using tech tools like ACI’s Airport Carbon and Emissions Reporting Tool (ACERT) to assess their emissions sources and explore technologies newer to airports that improve carbon removal. Wyoming Regional Airport, for example, is pioneering innovative technologies in support of their carbon neutrality goals including carbon removal technologies like direct air capture and geological carbon storage.

Many airports face limitations on facility footprints, resources, and sustainability options and are using technology to bridge the gap between what they have and what they need to improve their operations and, ultimately, the experience of passengers.

Compliance is a Guide, not an End-Goal
Speakers across sessions made it clear that meeting local, state, and federally mandated sustainability, equity/inclusion and community engagement goals is no longer the end goal of design – but an impetus for meaningful inclusion, climate action, and economic development.

Technologies and designs which help airports and their consultants exceed compliance minimums, like new aircrafts that prioritize noise and fuel reduction, to the exploration of sustainable aviation fuels that have the potential to reduce lifecycle emissions, to technologies and apps that help disabled passengers traverse airports with autonomy, to the use of disparity studies to ground designs in real community data, we are seeing a paradigm shift away from merely meeting goals to innovative, transformational design that prioritizes community health, equity, and economic development.

The Social Sustainability, Environmental Justice and Airport Engagement with Disadvantaged Communities workshop moderated by Victoria Johnson of HDR provided us a real-world example of this shift— the PANYNJ’s EWR Terminal A project which resulted in $2B awarded to minority businesses. The Authority is also using this redevelopment initiative to take a hyper-local approach to hiring airport staff and support local workforce development by creating an ecosystem that ensures workforce preparedness like GED assistance and job training.

Understanding Begets Success
Panelists like Jeanette Saunders of AMAC, John Benison of the FAA and keynote speakers like Kristin Scroggin demonstrated that the success of our projects, our companies, our facilities, and our communities depends upon our genuine curiosity and commitment to doing the work to understand one another’s needs, desires, motivations, and shortcomings.

Jeanette emphasized that the first step in the fight for social sustainability and environmental justice is simply recognizing the inequities. AMAC is helping to illuminate this with disparity studies and an upcoming analysis of DBE spend of AIP projects vs. PSE projects to understand the opportunity cost to disadvantaged businesses on non-mandated projects. John explained the FAA’s role in helping airports and their consultants to understand the communities they work with through the development of community engagement plans which the FAA monitors to ensure compliance.

Within our own organizations, Kristen explained the importance of understanding how different generations interact, and why conflict (or total avoidance of conflict) occurs in the workplace. She helped attendees to understand that our generational lived experiences dictate so much of our workplace behavior, and provided hiring suggestions so that we can find new staff who are teachable and tolerable to ensure the long-term success of our teams and our overall organizations.

Starting from a place of understanding allows us to prioritize equity in practices and policies in order to drive diversity, sustainability, equity, and inclusion.

Communicate Early, Openly, and Frequently
One sentence uttered in nearly every plenary and panel Arora attended was some iteration of the phrase “the best time to explore/implement/incorporate (insert technology, process, system, etc.) is the beginning.”

At the outset of any project, there are numerous stakeholders that design teams can engage to ensure designs are inclusive, equitable, sustainable, and achievable. We heard from institutions like the Open Doors Organization, the FAA, the TSA, AMAC, Linx Strategies and others on the host of resources available to consultants ranging from applications like the FAA’s Civil Rights app, to GoodMaps, to numerous ACRP studies and guidebooks (see below!).

We were educated on the importance of starting with an emissions inventory to map emission sources and quantities when striving to achieve Net Zero goals, explained by panelists in the Climate Change & Achieving Net Zero Goals workshop moderated by Kate Andrus of Mead & Hunt. In the Plenary Session: Future of Aircraft and Airframe Design, we were reminded of the importance of early coordination and communication with OEM operators and the FAA when airports are looking to implement innovative sustainability practices and technologies. Panelists in Kate’s workshop echoed the plenary and warned that pioneering electrification and battery power, sustainable aviation fuels, and carbon removal technologies require close and careful coordination with state and federal entities for approval and implementation.

Our industry is smaller and more insular than most because of our specialized experience and expertise, and all of our projects and facilities benefit when we can begin by drawing upon the knowledge and resources our colleagues and the numerous regulatory and non-profit organizations that uplift us. Our team compiled the following resources shared by the various presenters, and we encourage those interested to check out the full collection of speaker presentations shared by the conference organizers.


LinkedIn twitter Facebook Email