Community Involvement Activities

U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Aviation Administration
Office of Environment and Energy

May 1996

Report No. FAA-EE-96-05

Table of Contents


Community Involvement Techniques

Airport Action Groups

Major Environmental Issues

Summary and Recommendations

Appendix A - Community Involvement Study Participants
Appendix B - Community Involvement Techniques Identified at Airports
Appendix C - Description of Community Involvement Techniques




The purpose of this report is to compile in a single document various community involvement techniques and practices employed by airport managers, and to encourage and facilitate the development and implementation of effective community involvement programs at all airports. It identifies various community involvement techniques, which airports employ them, what techniques are most frequently used, and how successful these techniques have been for their programs. It also discusses the use of airport action groups and how these groups have benefited the airports in their relationship with the community.

In a recent survey, the Airports Council International (ACI) questioned its member airports regarding their community involvement programs for addressing aviation impacts on the environment. Sixty-seven members responded to the survey, five of which were from Canadian airports. Several responses included a group of airports; for example, the response from Honolulu International also included 14 other Hawaiian airports. A list of all the participants with a point of contact is provided in Appendix 1.

This information has been divided into three categories:

  1. Community Involvement Techniques - This category summarizes the questions in the survey dealing with various techniques used and which ones are the most or least successful. Also, an estimate of the amount of time and hours spent per month on community involvement activities is summarized.

  2. Airport Action Groups - This category summarizes the responses concerning the number of airports that have formed an airport action group, the structure of the group, who participates in the group, the relationship between the community and the airport before the group was formed, and how it changed after the group was formed.

  3. Major Environmental Issues - This category summarizes the major environmental issues discussed in public forums, which issues are the most controversial, the intensity of public concern, and how the airport action group has impacted the timeframe for resolving these issues.

Community Involvement Techniques

A total of 67 responses were received from individual airports and groups of airports. The most widely employed techniques in descending order are: the public mass meeting, advisory committees, public hearings, working meetings, and publications. The techniques employed least are participatory television and contests/events. The following chart shows all the techniques identified in use and the number of respondents employing each one. Appendix 2 lists the airports that use each technique. A description of each technique is given in Appendix 3.

[Chart omitted]

The most highly successful technique identified is the use of advisory committees. Also very successful are working meetings. Albuquerque International Airport (ABQ) and the Port Columbus International Airport (CMH) responses noted that working meetings and workshops are successful because they facilitate one-on-one communication rather than addressing a large group. An Atlanta-Hartsfield International Airport’s (ATL) staff member indicated that hotlines, working meetings, advisory committees, and technical training are highly successful because when information is shared and citizens can learn what the airport is doing to solve the community’s concerns, citizens are more positive and cooperative.

Hotlines and publications are also considered successful. A respondent from Kansas City International Airport (MCI) felt that publications allow the individual time to comprehend issues and acronyms. The Ottawa-MacDonald-Cartier International Airport (YOW), Canada, response indicated that hotlines are very successful if they are staffed consistently by technically informed people with good public relations skills, and publications can serve as good support methods. The Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI) response also noted that the success of the technique depends upon the particular project which is why they use so many different techniques. BWI finds hotlines, advisory committees, and interviews the most successful.

The following chart lists the most highly successful techniques identified at airports. Each technique shows the number of airports that identified the technique as successful with the number of airports using the technique.

[Chart omitted]

Public mass meetings and public hearings are considered the least successful by most respondents. ABQ noted that during public mass meetings, emotions run high and the audience tends to band together and promote negative momentum. ATL also responded that the audience gets caught up in a frenzy which leaves little room for rational discussion. At Calgary International Airport (YYC), Alberta, Canada, a staffmember said that public mass meetings are the least valuable because there are too many opinions and limited control. General Mitchell International Airport (MKE), Milwaukee, Wisconsin, responded that public hearings and advisory committees seem to provide an avenue for complaints and are not effective in providing information and receiving feedback.

A majority of the respondents (61) said they offer a service for individuals to register noise complaints. Most of these services are 24-hour hotlines; however, at some airports, the complaints are handled by the airport operations staff during office hours and a message machine at night. Others are only available during the day and handled by the office staff.

The amount of time spent per month on environmental community involvement activities including operation of noise complaint phone lines varies. Two respondents estimated they spend 3,000-4,000 hours, 6 estimated 500-1,500 hours, 14 estimated 100-500 hours, and 37 estimated they spend under 100 hours with 18 of those spending under 20 hours on community involvement activities.

The dollar amount estimated to be expended per month on community involvement activities concerning environment issues also varies. The highest amount is $250,000 per month, and the lowest amount is zero from 12 respondents. Eight respondents estimated the cost to be in the $10,000-$50,000 range, 20 respondents estimated the cost to be from $1,000-$10,000, and 12 respondents gave estimates under $1,000.

Some respondents noted that both time and cost vary with the project. One respondent noted that under normal conditions community involvement activities cost $2,000-$4,000, but on special projects it can range from $10,000-$20,000. Others could not estimate the time or cost because no budget is set for these activities.

Airport Action Groups

Airport action groups are established for the main purpose of promoting the benefits of airports and aviation to the community and enhancing airport safety. They can also be formed with other objectives in mind, such as environmental issues, and can be of local interest in a single airport or can be area-wide encompassing a system of airports.

A majority of respondents (40) replied that they have an airport action group that meets on a regular basis. Most of the groups meet quarterly, some meet monthly, and a few meet as needed. About half of the airports reported that groups have been established solely to deal with environmental issues. The environmental issues discussed at these groups are mostly concerned with noise. Some action groups have ad-hoc committees that specifically address noise issues or are organized for specific projects, such as an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) project or a Part 150 noise compatibility study.

The main participants of the airport action groups are airport officials, airline officials, FAA officials, and the general public. Other groups that were noted as participating are other airport tenants, local appointed and elected officials, civic organizations, pilots and members of flying clubs, representatives of national/local aviation organizations, military personnel, and business officials utilizing the airport. The least noted categories are State appointed and elected officials, other Federal officials, and environmental groups. In almost all cases, airport officials generally sponsor the meetings. A few respondents noted that local elected officials sponsor the meetings.

Most people are appointed or selected to become members of the airport action groups as noted by the respondents. Other means listed for recruitment are to be invited by the group, designated by an organization or homeowner association, or hold open meetings for anyone interested. The newspaper is the most popular means of advertising community involvement meetings followed by television, radio, and mailings to local citizens.

Most of the action groups consist of a Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson, and Secretary with additional committee members. Some of the groups are informal and have no structure. The groups are mostly led by airport officials or the Chairperson if one is present. The majority of respondents (38) said that FAA is involved in their meetings, three said FAA is occasionally present, and eight said FAA is not present. Representatives from FAA’s Air Traffic Control Towers are identified as being present at these meetings, along with the Airport District Offices. Other FAA organizations identified as representatives are Flight Standards, Airway Facilities, and other regional office representatives.

The relationship of airports with their communities before airport action groups were formed was poor in most cases (31). One respondent wrote, "There was very little to no direct communication with members of the community prior to the initiation of the quarterly airport-neighborhood association meetings. There was also a perception among the community that the airport did not care or listen to its neighbors." It was also noted that people believed they were not well represented, and the airport reacted to community issues only when the community spoke out on those issues. Other respondents indicated that the residents of the community were uninformed and skeptical of the airport, and the relationship was very hostile. However, some airports (16) responded that relationships between the airport and the community were good before the groups were formed. At Yuma International Airport (YUM), Arizona, the respondent noted that the airport has always had good relations with the community, because the community recognizes the economic contribution that the airport offers and the contribution of air commerce to the county. At Tulsa International Airport (TUL), Oklahoma, it was also noted that the employment base at Tulsa is very aviation oriented.

The change in the relationship of airports and their communities after the airport action groups were formed was in almost all cases better. The groups have allowed communication between the airports and the communities, have strengthened the credibility of the airports, and have created a more positive relationship. Airport action groups facilitate resolution of issues and people feel they are able to voice their opinions and work toward problem resolution. Through constructive dialogue over time, feedback from the community becomes more constructive, and while differences often persist, the direct involvement leads to more productive negotiations. The response from McCarran International Airport (LAS), Las Vegas, Nevada, noted that the community became more aware of the positive economic impacts of the airport and is now more understanding toward airport operations. The John Wayne Airport (SNA), Orange County, California, response noted that the community recognizes that, while the airport may not always act the way they wish, it is willing to receive their input and consider their views which leads to the perception that the airport views the community as important.

Overall, airport community involvement activities have greatly helped the relationship between the airport and the community. Communication between the FAA and the community has also been enhanced by using community involvement techniques. One response indicated that these activities have built a trusting, cooperating relationship with the community. The activities have opened communication lines and have provided a forum for increased awareness, responsiveness and mutual respect for the airport, the FAA, and the community. A respondent noted that community involvement has created a more knowledgeable public, and another noted that key community members make better comments because they are more informed. The Palm Beach International Airport(PBI) response noted, "our local tower’s willingness to attend meetings, answer questions, and assist with problem solving has greatly improved the FAA’s image in the eyes of most citizens."

Major Environmental Issues

Almost all of the airports reported having community involvement activities for environmental issues. The majority of respondents (49) said that noise is the major environmental issue discussed in public forums. Other major issues are air quality, vehicular traffic, wetlands development, hazardous materials cleanup, safety, and runway extensions. The most controversial environmental issue at most airports is noise. Noise is rated from 7 to 10 for intensity of public concern with 10 being the highest. Other than noise, the major issues rated 7 to 10 for intensity of public concern are the quality of life, air quality, water quality, ground traffic, visual impacts, hazardous wastes, and airport development. A few respondents, however, noted that noise and air quality are rated 2 and 3 for intensity of public concern at their airport.

In most cases, the airport action groups have decreased the timeframe in which environmental issues are resolved. Some of the reasons given for this are: There is better communication and understanding between the airport and the community; airport noise concerns are brought directly to the group where answers can be provided as soon as possible; issues are resolved in a professional manner with impacted group participation; and there is a full discussion of the concerns which leads to resolution where possible.


This survey identifies community involvement techniques used at various airports throughout the country, and which ones are most successful. By identifying the most successful techniques used at various airports, airport managers and staff can determine which techniques may work best in their community.

The most successful techniques identified are advisory committees and working meetings. These techniques allow for greater communication among the groups and a more positive relationship. Even though the most used technique is the public mass meeting, it was also considered the least successful along with public hearings. This suggests that to have a more successful community involvement program, airports along with the FAA need to consider other methods of communicating with the community. Public mass meetings often do not provide effective communications and do not provide adequate information and feedback. Public mass meetings or public hearings can be used effectively in some cases, but should not be the only means of community involvement.

It was also apparent that airport action groups are successful in establishing better communication with the community. The majority of airports responded that they have an airport action group that deals with environmental issues as well as other airport concerns. It was also clear that since the inception of these groups, the relationship among the airport, the FAA, and the community has improved. The main environmental issue (and the most controversial) is noise, with other environmental issues such as air quality, ground traffic, and quality of life, also rated high for intensity of public concern.

The results of this survey are consistent with current community involvement principles which point out that a well-designed, successful community involvement program requires consideration and application of techniques that have been proven to improve the relationship with the public.


The FAA encourages all airport managers to develop and implement a comprehensive community involvement program which includes coordination with and participation of local FAA officials. This report is designed to facilitate the development and implementation of such programs.

Go to Appendix A