Updated Airport Design Guidance Includes Turf Ops


In a recently published advisory circular (AC) updating its airport design guidance, the FAA officially acknowledged turf operations on unpaved runway safety areas (RSAs). According to the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), it first suggested the policy change a few years ago during the annual EAA/FAA Winter Recreational Summit. The update covers key risk factors to consider for turf operations along with airport design recommendations, FSDO safety assessments, maintenance requirements and pilot education.

“This policy update has been several years in the making after EAA first asked FAA to codify what has taking place naturally at GA airports for decades,” said Lily Johnson, EAA government advocacy specialist. “EAA has worked closely with the FAA, Midwest ATC, and Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh to prototype the concept for non-AirVenture time periods, as evidence that it can work effectively for airports throughout the nation and give pilots who prefer unpaved turf options as safer and less demanding on airframes.”

In addition to EAA, the change was backed by organizations including the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and Recreational Aviation Foundation (RAF). The updated AC (PDF), which provides guidance to airport sponsors and airport consultants designing and developing airports, also included a restructuring of the document, explanations of terms used, expanded information and the addition of graphics. It replaced a previous version dated Sept. 28, 2012.

“The advisory circular provides a critical roadmap for the aviation industry when planning, designing and developing the nation’s airports,” said Shannetta R. Griffin, FAA associate administrator of airports. “This update contains the latest information the industry needs as we work collaboratively to build safe, sustainable and accessible airport infrastructure to safely transport passengers, goods and services.”

Kate O'Connor
Kate O’Connor works as AVweb's Editor-in-Chief. She is a private pilot, certificated aircraft dispatcher, and graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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  1. I have 31″ Alaskan Bushwheels on my Maule MX-7-180 so I land on grass whenever possible. They cost $1,800 each and wear out faster when operated on pavement. Many GA airports have a grass strip beside the hard surfaced runway but the condition varies widely. Some have obstacles such as signs or lights or drainage gratings. Others only have a narrow strip mown and the rest is tall grass or weeds. Some are so side-sloped that landing is risky. None of the towered airports that I’ve used have a grass strip. Having the FAA officially support airport design that includes turf runways is a welcomed change. Taildraggers like grass and it reduces the possibility of a ground loop on landing so there’s a safety benefit as well as a reduction in insurance claims.

  2. This is long overdue and too late to save my current set of tires. Better late than never? How long will this take to filter down to the hometown airport where the manager is hunkered down in his office busy shagging public $$ to fund future paving projects? My next tire set is not holding its breath.

  3. Amusing given prevalence of grass runways.

    737s even landed on grass, following tests at Hope BC.

    Boeing gathered performance data using a test 737 equipped with the gravel runway kit that had been in operation in northern Canada.

    Mission was to guide operations of airline service.

    Hope’s runway turned out to be a little soft for the 737, after several landings and takeoffs the nose gear deflector plate caught and doubled under. I speculate higher nose gear load in traversing a small undulation, 737 seems sensitive to pitching. It was cut off and the airplane departed without it (I don’t remember if it made additional circuits, probably not – I was there). So Boeing got data for the low end of runway firmness range. 😉

    I read that an airline in Africa did operate from a grass runway, for some reason the desire to operate into Tasmania was not realized (it was probably firm enough).

  4. As a fellow Maule pilot I concur.

    I like to land in grass beside the runway when the grass is nice.

    I’ll use the runway for takeoff though to reduce debris damage to the fabric belly and dirt on the plane when under full power.

  5. Good move, but unfortunately for probably a majority of existing small airports obstacles abound in most non-paved areas. Sometimes this can be overcome with the application of sufficient dollars, but that in turn comes up against the likelihood that the limited user demand won’t convince the holders of the purse strings to turn those dollars loose.

  6. Maybe we can advocate grass runways as carbon offset for all the evil lead we are putting into the atmosphere!