DOT Initial Notice: Airport Emergency Contingency Plans

On February 24, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued an initial Notice regarding Section 42301 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, which requires operators of large, medium, small, and non-hub airports to prepare emergency contingency plans to handle extended tarmac delays when they occur.

As we noted last week, the statute requires airport operators to develop plans that describe, to the maximum extent practicable, how they will:

  • Provide for the deplanement of passengers following excessive tarmac delays.
  • Provide for the sharing of facilities and make gates available at the airport in an emergency following excessive tarmac delays.
  • Provide a sterile area following excessive tarmac delays for passengers who have not yet cleared United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) following excessive tarmac delays.

The plans must be submitted to the DOT by May 14, 2012, for their review and approval.

The Notice provides limited additional guidance regarding the content of airport emergency contingency plans, merely restating the statutory requirements from Section 42301, but does discuss a number of other important details.

Applicability of Requirements

The Notice clarifies DOT’s interpretation of the applicability of Section 42301, noting that it will be using airport hub definitions from calendar year 2010 to determine which airports must submit plans.  As noted above, DOT expects all large, medium, small and non-hub airports to submit plans.  The DOT has requested airports on this list that believe that they are not covered by the statute (i.e., airports classified as non-hubs in CY 2010 that no longer meet non-hub activity thresholds) to notify the DOT immediately.

Plan Submittal

The DOT notes that it intends to “establish an electronic submission system, which will be “similar to the Department’s current disability complaint reporting system where covered airlines and airports will submit their required plans.”  The DOT plans to issue another Notice regarding submission requirements within 45 days with detailed information on the submission process.  Based on recommendations from DOT staff, ACI-NA is advising airports not to file plans until the DOT provides this additional guidance regarding plan contents and the means of electronic submittal.

Plan Review

Finally the Notice states that the DOT will focus its review of the contingency plans on the statutory and existing regulatory requirements for such plans.  ACI-NA advises airports to develop their DOT contingency plans narrowly—limiting them to the aforementioned statutory requirements—to limit enforcement exposure.  This said, we also advise airports—especially those that experience high numbers of irregular operations and diversions—to develop a more comprehensive “internal” contingency plans that deal with a broader range of activities, collaboration, and coordination than the statutory requirements.

DOT Points of Contact

DOT’s points of contact regarding the new contingency plan requirements are Livaughn Chapman, Jr. and Laura Jennings.  Both of these individuals can be reached by phone at (202) 366-9342.

Next Steps

ACI-NA is developing a DOT emergency contingency plan template for members to use as they develop their individual contingency plans.  We also refer airports interested in developing more comprehensive “internal” contingency plans to the following resources: 

While we await further guidance from the USDOT, there are steps airports can take to prepare for the contingency plan requirements, including:

  • Compile an inventory of available ground handling equipment at the airport and who owns/operates the equipment.
  • Compile a list of key contacts in the event of operational emergencies (i.e., airline station managers, air traffic representatives, third party ground handling providers, CBP, TSA, and airport staff).
  • Review your use & lease agreements to determine the extent to which you have the authority to allocate gates and other terminal facilities during operational emergencies.
  • If you handle international diversions and haven’t done so already, contact your local CBP representative to begin discussions about establishing temporary sterile areas at your airport.

We will keep you informed regarding the new requirements in the coming weeks.