May 14 is the Deadline for Contingency Plans

On Monday, ACI-NA held an Airport Emergency Contingency Plan webinar with officials from the DOT’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division to discuss DOT recommended changes to the ACI-NA/AAAE contingency plan template, as well as DOT’s process for submitting the plans electronically.

As stated in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, the plans must describe how following excessive tarmac delays airport operators will, to the maximum extent practicable, provide for:  the deplanement of passengers; the sharing of facilities and gates at the airport and; the use of a sterile area for passengers who have not yet cleared Customs & Border Protection. Operators of all large, medium, small, and non-hub airports must submit a plan electronically to DOT by Monday, May 14, for their review and acceptance.

In late April, DOT provided a set of proposed changes to the ACI-NA/AAAE template primarily dealing with airports’ plans to share facilities and make gates available in an emergency.  The department’s proposed changes presume that airports can and will play a much stronger role to ensure facilities and gates are shared when airlines experience extended tarmac delays.

During the webinar, several DOT clarifications emerged. First, the department appears to be rejecting plans that do not include their amended template language pertaining to an airport’s ability to “direct tenant air carriers to make gates and other facilities available an air carrier seeking to deplane at exclusively-leased gates during those time periods the gates are not in use or not scheduled to be in use, to the maximum extent practicable.”

DOT officials advised that air carrier submittals will also include requirements for them to make gates and facilities available for use by other carriers following excessive tarmac delays.

Should your airport have concerns with this requirement, you should contact Livaughn Chapman (livaughn.chapman@dot.gov) or Laura Jennings (laura.jennings@dot.gov) with the DOT’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division directly to discuss the unique nature of your airport’s issues.

Additionally, DOT officials confirmed the 60-day time limit from which a plan must be submitted and approved by DOT. For example, should the department require an airport’s plan to be modified 55 days after an airport has submitted its plan; the airport will have five remaining days to resubmit their plan for approval. DOT officials indicated that some airport submissions have already been approved, and that airports can expect to either receive emails approving the plans as submitted, or rejecting the plans with suggested modifications. DOT officials also advised that in the event that no email is received by the end of the 60-day time limit, the plans will be treated as presumptively approved.

DOT officials also expressed a willingness to consider specific facility constraints included in a plan such as runway length limitations as justification for why an airport believes sterile areas do not require consideration.

On a related issue not covered during the webinar, ACI-NA has fielded several questions from airports expressing concerns that there is inadequate time to coordinate with CBP officials regarding sterile area provisions or that CBP officials have been unresponsive to airport requests for review of sterile area plans.

ACI-NA has made U.S. DOT officials aware of these concerns and DOT understands the difficulties associated with these coordination efforts. It is our understanding that DOT will approve a plan even if an airport is unable to coordinate with CBP by May 14.  In these cases, DOT has encouraged airport operators to document their efforts to coordinate sterile area provisions with CBP.  The language included in the ACI-NA/AAAE template addresses these situations explicitly and we encourage you to use it in your plan if circumstances warrant.

Airports can file their plans with the DOT electronically at http://filingtarmacdelayplan.dot.gov. Full instructions on how to submit plans are also available in today’s Federal Register.

If you have questions or issues regarding the plans prior to next Monday’s submittal deadline, please contact ACI-NA’s Chris Oswald or Paul Eubanks.  We can also be contacted by phone at 202.293.8500.