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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Maintaining and Improving National Airspace Infrastructure

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for maintaining and improving the infrastructure of nearly 300 airport traffic control towers (ATCT) and terminal radar approach control (TRACON) facilities. The FAA maintains and modernizes these facilities to ensure that they are consistent with evolving air traffic operational needs and airport expansions.

From funding cuts to cost overruns to construction delays, there are countless potential problems that could arise when the FAA replaces or upgrades aging facilities.

When air traffic facilities need replacement or sustainment, the FAA turns to Volpe’s project management and systems engineering team to make sure everything goes as planned.

The Challenge

The FAA is pressing forward with an ambitious, decades-long plan to upgrade its air traffic facilities and support its NextGen plan to make the world’s most complex airspace safer, more efficient, and environmentally responsible. Many control towers built 20 years ago are incompatible with today’s operational requirements. The average age of a tower is 27 years, and some are up to 40 years old.

This massive, ongoing upgrade requires project planners who can focus on specific infrastructure improvements without losing sight of the FAA’s ultimate goals.

The Solution

Volpe’s operations management team leverages its more than 25 years of support to FAA facilities to provide schedule management, risk management, financial analysis, facility design, and systems engineering. This high-profile upgrade program impacts 50 to 100 systems and services per upgrade and typically tackles 20 facility replacement projects each year.

The Volpe air traffic facilities team spearheads several critical early planning phases of each project. They create cost plans, which take a line-item view of all the moving parts, from the millions of dollars for an entire terminal project down to a single piece of equipment worth thousands of dollars. They survey every piece of equipment and identify equipment that airports need to replace to meet NextGen standards, and equipment that airports can simply move to new facilities. They make sure that best practices are followed when FAA requires Building Information Modeling (BIM) for architecture and engineering solicitations and construction specifications.

Finally, the Volpe team makes sure facilities upgrades are safe. When it is time to cutover from the old to the new facility, Volpe works with the FAA in developing a transition and cutover plan. Prior to execution of the plan, Volpe conducts an operational safety assessment and identifies any necessary mitigation strategies so as not to impact air travel during the cutover.

The Impact

The long-term relationship between the FAA and Volpe’s facilities management team supports the Department’s mission of providing a fast, safe, efficient, accessible, and convenient transportation system. Complex, large-scale infrastructure upgrades at airports from New York to Pensacola tap into Volpe’s wealth of knowledge to replace facilities near the end of their useful lifespan.

Going forward, the FAA’s facilities program will provide the blueprint for Volpe’s work to help make the nation’s airspace more efficient. Some of the current facility replacement projects include West Palm Beach, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Tucson, Sacramento, Cleveland, and Kalamazoo.


Federal Aviation Administration