Are Heated Airport Runways Economically Viable?

Airports in regions throughout the United States (US) that experience cold weather and potentially significant snow accumulations could substantially reduce cancellations and delays related to snowfall by installing heated runways that ensure ice and snow free pavement surfaces without costly and time delaying mechanical treatments. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the estimated cost to heat a 150 x 10,000 foot runway is $53 million to install an electric heated wire and $8,250 for each hour the heating system operates. To the best of the project investigators knowledge, U.S. public commercial airports have not installed a heated runway. Unlike highways, airports cannot use salt for deicing because salt is corrosive to airplanes. Although some chemical deicers are available, the deicers have negative impacts on environment. US airports mainly use plows and sweepers to clear runways and taxiways and the winter operations slow airport operations considerably. An airport’s decision to install a heated runway should be based on whether such a runway would increase economic welfare, accounting for the benefits to travelers and airlines and the costs of installing and operating a heated runway. The purpose of this research is to conduct cost-benefit analyses for investing in a heated runway at both large and small airports in the US. This research question is closely related to the theme of the Center of Environmentally Sustainable Transportation in Cold Climates (CESTiCC) because heated runways could replace chemical deicers that have negative impacts on environment. Moreover, heated runways could reduce operation costs and enhance passenger safety at airports in cold regions.