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Three MU teams place at national airport design needs competition

Nolan Greenaway, Taylor Sheldon, Joshua Seabaugh, Kyle Felts, Joshua Garton and Broderick Johnson pose at Columbia Regional Airport.

Students in Carlos Sun’s airport engineering course toured the Columbia Regional Airport as part of their preparations to compete in the Airport Cooperative Research Program/Federal Aviation Administration’s University Design Competition for Addressing Airport Needs. From left: Nolan Greenaway, Taylor Sheldon, Joshua Seabaugh, Kyle Felts, Joshua Garton and Broderick Johnson. Photo courtesy of Carlos Sun.

Carlos Sun’s airport engineering course provided the impetus, and three student teams from the University of Missouri earned accolades from the Airport Cooperative Research Program/Federal Aviation Administration’s University Design Competition for Addressing Airport Needs.

Engineering undergraduates Lauren Boerner, Paige Martz and Laura Walker finished in third place for “Taxi Navigation – A Runway Safety System,” and two other teams earned honorable mention nods. The graduate student team of Boris Claros, Tim Cope, Amir Khezerzadeh and Brett Williams earned its marks for “Runway Incursion Safety Performance Functions,” while the undergraduate team of Nicholas Buss, Josh Garton, Nolan Greenaway and Erin Rottinghaus landed the same accolade for “Design of Solar Tiles as Surface Pavement for Airfields: A Feasibility Study.”

The competition is open to all interested U.S. colleges and universities, and previous winners have come from institutions such as California-Berkeley, Purdue, and Illinois.

The teams put forth proposals dealing with one of four technical areas — airport operations and maintenance, runway safety, airport environmental interactions, and airport management and planning. Students were required to contact industry professionals for advice and potentially for data, and industry members and academic experts from the Federal Aviation Administration selected the winners.

Students also had access to publically available FAA data for use in their study, including airport diagrams, annual operation statistics, runway incursion statistics and more. Both the data and the willingness of industry professionals to provide feedback proved invaluable to the experience.

“It was really helpful,” Khezerzadeh said. “They recommended we add the weather variable, for example.”

“Their answers were very specific and saved us a lot of time trying to solve the problem,” Claros added.

The taxi navigation project looked at using global positioning systems, transponders and receivers to keep tabs on the movements of aircraft and other vehicles on the tarmac via a tablet, allowing personnel to aid pilots and ground crews in navigation in order to avoid accidents. Taxi navigation systems have the ability to alert pilots and allow pilots to display other aircraft, vehicles, buildings, possible routes and more, providing a cost-effective way to avoid runway incursions and excursions — incidents where unaccounted for aircraft, vehicles or people are entering or exiting the runway, potentially causing accidents — while decreasing the load placed on air traffic controllers.

“One of the team members, her dad has been an air traffic controller for a long, long time, so I believe she talked with her dad about possible FAA design projects, and this was one idea they pursued,” Sun, an associate professor of civil engineering, said. “What’s neat about it is the FAA provided a lot of resources. They toured Chicago O’Hare, had face time — with pilots, airport operators, with planners — and worked out a lot of the details of this taxi navigation system.”

The graduate team applied safety performance functions common with studies on roadway safety to the problem of reducing runway incursions. The team used variables such as annual airport operations, total number of runways, total runway length, number of taxiway entries, annual precipitation, annual snowfall and total days in a year with precipitation of more than an inch to develop a system for more accurately predicting potential runway incursions, testing it on a case study of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

“Most airports don’t keep a record of specifically what they do,” Claros said. “It wasn’t available to us to look at other airports and specifically say what they did, whereas LAX actually had a lot of descriptive info about what they did in order to limit runway incursions.”

The solar tile pavement project tackled the affordability and practicality of using solar tiles as a material for runways, looking into the maintenance, associated costs, and their potential benefits in areas such as deicing and foreign object removal. The team predicted the initial cost of putting in a solar tile runway would far exceed concrete and asphalt, but predicted costs in maintenance over the life of the runway could mean lower annual costs.

“That was about the time when there was a Kickstarter project for supporting solar panels for roadways,” Garton said. “They had a really cool system of these modular tiles you could just put together. We thought it would be cool to see, a good place at least to study and see what potential benefits could be.”