Monday, August 15, 2016

Artificial Turf and Gopher Tortoises at Orlando Sanford International Airport

DOT/FAA/TC-15/61 Authors: Ryan King, Lauren (Vitagliano) Collins, and John R. Weller


Under Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 139 (14 CFR 139) Section 309, airports are required to maintain runway safety areas (RSAs) free of “hazardous ruts, humps, depressions or other surface variations.” The safety areas must also be capable of supporting the “occasional passage of aircraft without causing major damage to the aircraft.” A number of airports in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Southern Region have difficulty meeting the regulations under 14 CFR 139 for holes in RSAs caused by burrowing of gopher tortoises. Gopher tortoises are listed as a threatened species in Florida, and mitigation efforts (i.e., tortoise removal or relocation and burrow eliminations) are heavily regulated, expensive, and time-consuming. However, gopher tortoises burrowing in such close proximity to runways are a safety hazard to aircraft that may leave the runway pavement surface.

Artificial turf that meets the specifications in FAA Advisory Circular 150/5370-15B has been identified as a material that can be used to cover large portions of airport property with multiple benefits, such as providing consistent ground cover, as well as reducing maintenance costs and attractive vegetative food sources for hazardous wildlife species. It was determined that research was necessary to assess artificial turf as a potential solution for mitigating the burrowing behavior of gopher tortoises on the airport property.

The FAA Airport Technology Research and Development Branch entered into an agreement with Orlando Sanford International Airport in August 2013 to conduct a study on the applicability of artificial turf in the RSA to mitigate potential hazardous conditions resulting from the presence of burrowing gopher tortoises. The study also investigated the ability of the artificial turf system to withstand exposure to harsh environmental conditions, and the occasional, inadvertent passage of vehicles and aircraft, which was tested by using a specialized vehicle retrofitted with an aircraft nose wheel. An area adjacent to the blast pad at the approach end of Runway 18 was selected as the test site, and construction on the test area commenced in February 2014. Data were collected between May 1, 2014 and April 30, 2015.

The results from over a year of data collections and directed studies demonstrated that artificial turf is compatible with safe airport operations, is durable to passive environmental factors, is not attractive to other hazardous species, resists burrowing by gopher tortoises, and does not exhibit detrimental reduced braking during aircraft or vehicle excursions. It was also determined that the artificial turf performed well during the occasional passage by operational vehicles, including fully loaded aircraft rescue and firefighting vehicles.

Authors: Ryan King, Lauren (Vitagliano) Collins, and John R. Weller

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