Plans are worthless, but planning is everything

Written by Sara Hales.

Airports all around the world invest in a Master Plan, on a regular and cyclical basis. For some airports, this is a regulatory requirement. However, for many, it isn’t.

As we work with airports around Australia and the Asia Pacific, we find many variations of the Master Plan, executed with widely varying degrees of expertise and insight.

We see expired Master Plans – not one or two years expired… 15 years expired.

We see airports that are now experiencing operational challenges due to a lack of Master Planning.

We even see current Master Plans which don’t consider how aviation technology will change in the next 10 years. And rest assured, it will change a lot.

We work with airport managers and Boards every day, all over the country. Attitudes to Master Plans vary drastically. Often, it is referred to as a document that cost a lot of money and then sits on the shelf gathering dust for ten years. That doesn’t seem like a good investment to us...

While there is some truth in the old adage “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything” (D Eisenhower), it is not the full truth. For Airport Master Plans, this can only be said of plans that were never designed to be useful in the first place.

Many airport managers tell us that they don’t need a document that sits on the shelf, espousing the ultimate capacity and where the taxiways can be located.

What they need is a document that they can use every day to guide the operationalisation of the airport’s business strategy.

And that’s a bit challenging if the airport doesn’t actually HAVE a business strategy…

Ideally, the Master Plan should provide guidance around how the asset can be developed, optimised and safeguarded to deliver on the airport’s business strategy.

The planning process should be preceded by good business strategy development, mindful of the airport’s role in the community and its specific strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Plans around the development of aviation infrastructure should be tempered by an understanding of the aircraft operators’ and other customers’ ability and willingness to pay for them.

It is also important to consider how, over time, demands on infrastructure are likely to change as macro and microeconomics evolve and new aviation technologies and travel patterns emerge.

Leveraging property assets should also be optimised to deliver on both aeronautical and non-aeronautical opportunities – but this isn’t often included in the plans we see.

Options should be explored to diversify the airport’s revenue streams, to strengthen the business, to serve the community and to position the airport, as it should be – an important economic and social asset to be leveraged for the benefit of the surrounding region.

Working together, Aviation Projects and AVISTRA are developing a Strategic Master Plan process for regional airports.

This process will define the airport’s business and aeronautical strategy and plan for the provision and protection of the infrastructure which can deliver upon it.

It won’t sit on the shelf.

It will be a road map that airport managers around the country can use every day to guide their project planning and business development, and to align Board and Management priorities and expectations.

Don’t worry, it will still provide the critical planning and aerodrome safeguarding guidance that is so essential in the traditional Master Plan, but it will also be a useful tool and will represent pragmatic, actionable advice to guide the airport forwards

So, where is your Master Plan? And what is guiding your airport’s strategic business approach and asset development.

Maybe it’s time to consider a new approach.

AVISTRA provides strategic and commercial advice to airports and government. Visit us at