When it comes to airport emergency operations, there’s no such thing as being over prepared. Planning for a disaster is a necessary step to comprehensively prepare your airport for the unexpected. By engaging strategic partners, understanding the unique aspects of natural and human-driven disasters, and regularly updating your plan, an airport can be well-equipped to protect lives and reduce property damage.

What does “airport emergency operations” encompass?

With a fully built-out airport emergency operations plan, we can plan for and address anything and everything that could happen at an airport. This covers natural disasters, including floods and hurricanes, as well as human-driven disasters, such as hijackings and terrorist attacks. Anything that requires an action to save human lives and protect property and public health would fall under the umbrella of an airport emergency.

Planning for specific emergency scenarios provides a basic road map for an airport emergency plan, as defined by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in Advisory Circular (AC) 150/5200-31C. An airport should give specific details outlining how it can eliminate the negative impacts of a potential emergency. The plan should also identify how to minimize impacts from a potential emergency situation to an airport's operation.

Emergency operations is typically managed by airports, so how does this affect airlines operating at an airport?

Each airline operating at an airport should have a place at the table when discussing the airport’s emergency plan. Although airlines and airport users will not guide the development of an emergency operations plan, they should be a resource for the airport when putting the plan together. This includes having input on assigned responsibilities, identifying key points of contact and understanding operations in each emergency scenario. Airlines should be involved participants and recognize the airport’s emergency plan. This includes providing operational updates for an airline due to organizational changes.

What are the three most important things airports need to consider when planning for emergency operations?

  1. Don’t just check the box. An airport emergency plan is required by the FAA. Unfortunately, most airports don’t have the staff or the time to put together a comprehensive plan that gets into specifics. Airports that take the time to properly coordinate and thoughtfully develop a plan will be better prepared for future emergencies.
  2. Continually update. Collaborate regularly with agencies and airport staff who may need to be involved in an airport emergency plan. Having a single point of contact responsible for updating the plan is preferable. This may not be a full-time job, but it is highly recommended that staff review and update plans quarterly because of the changing nature of the aviation industry. Staff should update contact information, emergency numbers and infrastructure changes. During quarterly updates, agencies and airport staff should review any references to the airport layout or inventory, including equipment and supplies.
  3. Communicate directly. When discussing emergency operations and plans, direct and open communication drives efficient plan updates. Changes, updates and modifications must be communicated clearly. There can be no doubt left regarding what must be done in each situation. Human lives are often at stake, and the cost is too high to be unclear.

What are some current trends in the emergency operations world and how will they affect future planning?

Currently, our industry, like all others, is seeing the impacts of climate change. Natural disasters — floods, blizzards and ice storms — are regularly impacting operations at airports, including events believed to be once-in-a-lifetime now occurring every five to 10 years.

Planning at airports for potential emergencies should also consider facilities that store equipment and material. Many of the items in storage will seem redundant, but — if available — could save lives and reduce potential costs. Any disruption to daily operations at an airport reduces the confidence the traveling public may have for the airport or airlines. The goal of an airport emergency operations plan is to eliminate potential negative impacts and reinforce the passengers’ confidence in the airport’s emergency response.


Constructing or upgrading aviation facilities can be a key facet of emergency operations. Whether you are preparing for natural or human-driven disasters, it’s essential to address and understand your underlying technology, infrastructure and logistics. These components can improve services for the traveling public and reduce the impacts of emergencies. Learn more in our latest Aviation Special Report.

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As a project manager at Burns & McDonnell, Jason Fuehne specializes in commercial airport pavement design, Department of Defense pavement design, Department of Defense site design, and management of commercial aviation projects.