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Civil Engineering students score high at 2011 FAA Design Competition

Three teams of MU civil engineering students received top-tier placements for their paper proposals in the 2011 FAA Design Competition last June.  The students spent a semester preparing for the competition in Carlos Sun’s Fall 2010 Airport Engineering course with the end goal of submitting a design project of their choice to compete in the contest. Although Sun has taught the course in previous semesters, this was the first to incorporate the FAA Design Competition as a final class requirement.

“The course is a way to get students exposed to the field of airport engineering,” Sun said. “The air industry in the U.S. is of much higher importance when compared to the rest of the world, especially countries in Europe and Asia,” Sun said.

“Other developed countries rely on rail systems that are much more developed, and the U.S. mainly uses freeways and air travel.”

Students in the class worked in groups of three to five competing in the categories of airport environmental interactions, runway safety/runway incursions, airport operations and maintenance, and airport management and planning.

The beginning of the class offered an introduction to airport systems planning, design and management. Students learned the ins and outs of runway and taxi layouts, passenger building design and environmental issues. The rest of the semester, students researched and wrote their selected designs for the FAA competition.

Goebel, Fitzpatrick and Loos concluded an anaerobic baffled reactor as the best system for contaminated stormwater at Lambert International Airport.

Sara Goebel, John Fitzpatrick and Jonathan Loos won second place for their airport environmental interactions design titled, “Contaminated Stormwater Runoff Management.”

The team focused on the problem of untreated stormwater that runs into streams and rivers surrounding airports.

“The anti-icing chemicals that keep planes and runways from freezing in the winter are a typical contaminant. Under EPA requirements, airports are not required to do anything to the water,” Goebel said.

“The planes are treated in a separate area, where the water is collected and hauled to a wastewater treatment plant. But that doesn’t mean all the water is absolutely contained,” Goebel said.

Goebel, Fitzpatrick and Loos performed a case study on Lambert International Airport in St. Louis.

They concluded the best way to combat contaminants is using an anaerobic baffled reactor — an enclosed underground system that allows the water to travel up and down through baffles by pumps.

“We concluded an anaerobic system, that breaks down chemicals without oxygen, is best for the FAA’s wildlife requirements,” Goebel said. “The system won’t attract wildlife.”

She added that baffles work quickly and process the water in 24-48 hours. A typical anaerobic system takes about three weeks.

“I absolutely loved this project. It was great to dive into a subject I knew nothing about and spend a semester really making strides in an important field,” Goebel said.

The Evaluation of Airfield Lighting Efficiency at Columbia Regional Airport team concluded a total yearly savings of $34,925.

Sean Collier, Mary Hinz and Wyatt Jenkins took third place for their design titled, “Evaluation of Airfield Lighting Efficiency at Columbia Regional Airport.”

“We all wanted to focus on sustainability, because energy efficiency is so important and it’s a cheap fix for what you save in the long run,” Jenkins said.

The group chose the Columbia Regional Airport as the focus of their research because there is limited existing research in sustainability changes.

“Like any airport they are strapped for cash there, especially because they are a smaller facility,” Jenkins said.

The group researched the estimated cost incurred if the airport changed its lighting to LED’s (light emitting diodes), a semiconductor light source, rather than fluorescent lights.

“We concluded savings of roughly $35,000 on their electricity bill. After almost three years the investment would be fully paid off,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins said that the FAA plans to require every airport in the U.S. to use LED’s by 2014. While the initial cost seems steep, the savings eventually pay for themselves.

“I hope our research starts the conversation for airports like Columbia Regional. It isn’t out of reach, it just requires an initial investment to reap the benefits of huge savings,” Jenkins said.

After resdesign and implementation of the two systems at one end of the runway, the team calculated a total savings of $62 million in 20 years.

Abdullah Habibzai, Naghma Hassan and Andy Mackley placed third in the Runway Safety/Runway Incursions challenge for their proposal titled “Integration of Engineered Material Arresting System and End-Around Taxiways.”

The team tackled the issue of airports with limited right-of-way, meaning the land strips in and around the taxiway locations.

“We combined two already existing systems, engineered material arresting and end-around taxiways, meaning taxiways go around the end of the runway instead of crossing departures,” Habibzai said.

Most airports use parallel runway configurations, in which departing and arriving planes use different runways. Arriving aircrafts have to cross the departure runway which can results in delays and risks of collisions. The end-around taxiways allow aircrafts to taxi around the end of the runway without interfering with operations on the runway.

The other system, engineered material arresting, is a special kind of concrete installed at the end of taxiways that stop the plane at the end of a runway.

Habibzai, Hassan and Mackley concluded that merging these two existing systems would allow airports with runway problems and limited right-of-way a safer and more economical solution.

“Our research shows the system could increase safety and airport capacity, decrease collisions, decrease taxiing time and save money,” Habibzai said.

They conducted their case study on the Orlando International Airport because it has a history of runway problems.

“After redesigning and implementing our system at one end of the runway, we calculated a total savings of $62 million in 20 years. And that’s only one end of the runway,” Habibzai said.

For the new innovative system to become a reality, Habibzai said legal regulations would have to change and this could take substantial time.

“Of course it requires further research and investigation, as well as proposals to legislatures or practitioners who see value in its implementation,” Habibzai said. “There’s nothing more important than new ideas to improve the safety of human beings.”