Pavement Design


Airport pavements are complex engineering structures that must be properly designed and maintained to support an efficient national aerospace system. Airfield pavements must provide adequate structural support for the loads imposed by aircraft, with surfaces that are stable, smooth, skid-resistant, and free of particles that can be blown or picked up by propeller wash or jet blast.

To meet these requirements, ATR conducts extensive research to improve guidance used by airports in designing and constructing federally-funded airside pavements. This guidance is published by the FAA through the Series 150 Advisory Circulars (AC).  

Early pavement design ACs relied on nomographs to determine required pavement thickness. In 1995, ATR began developing software programs to supplement the paper-chart-based design procedures with the creation of a program called LEDFAA. This program, the predecessor to today’s FAARFIELD, was developed concurrently with AC 150/5320-16, Airport Pavement Design for the Boeing 777 Airplane (1995, cancelled 2004). Since then, ATR has continued to develop software programs to meet the challenges of new and heavier aircraft, and to better support FAA advisory circulars.

Within pavement design, ATR research focus areas include:

  • Extended Airport Pavement Life: developing methodologies that up to double the life of airfield pavements. Current FAA-funded airport pavements have a design life of 20 years, which can be extended through improved material technologies and new design methods coupled with advanced, data-based performance prediction models. The expectation is that a longer pavement lifecycle will reduce costs and construction-related delays and minimize negative environmental impacts.
  • FAA Rigid and Flexible Iterative Elastic Layer Design (FAARFIELD): improving the reliability of airport pavement design. FAARFIELD is the FAA’s standard software for pavement thickness design and strength rating and is widely accepted worldwide. The next generation of FAARFIELD will use machine learning technology to increase speed and accuracy; incorporate new data from FAA’s full-scale testing programs; and instantly share pavement data with FAA’s other programs, including FAA PAVEAIR.
  • Reflective Cracking: controlling reflective cracking in overlay design. Reflection cracking occurs when existing cracks and joints from older pavement layers work their way to the surface of an overlay. This has the potential to create debris, and it shortens the life of the overlay. Reflection cracking is a complex problem because it is caused by a combination of temperature cycling (opening/closing) and repeated aircraft loads (shearing/tearing). Using unique test equipment, FAA is developing new models to predict and control reflection cracks in airport overlay designs.  

This research aligns with goals outlined in the U.S. Department of Transportation Strategic Plan. The Strategic Plan provides a roadmap for implementing investments in our country’s transportation system. Airport pavement design research supports the stated goals for climate and sustainability, as well as transformation.

The data from research conducted by the Airport Pavement R&D Section, including the full-scale tests at the National Airport Pavement Test Facility (NAPTF) and the National Airport Pavement and Materials Research Center (NAPMRC), will continue to feed into FAARFIELD. 


Learn More

Current airport design and construction Advisory Circulars (AC):