Students Showcase Work on Equity-focused Aviation Accessibility Metric

At a recent conference, students presented a metric that they developed to measure accessibility to the aviation system for low-income travelers.

Consider a low-income traveler, someone without reliable access to a car and low transit service in their area. How easily can that traveler get to the airport? Could they afford the price of an airline ticket?

More broadly, what does it mean for this individual to access the air transportation system? And how do we measure accessibility to the aviation system at a large scale? Using this measurement of accessibility, how might we improve accessibility to the aviation system?

These are some of the questions that undergraduates Shriya Karam and Stephanie Nam explored in a presentation at the Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board (TRB) in January 2022 in Washington, D.C. Their trip was supported by a Kleinman Center grant, and the students were accompanied by their faculty advisor, Megan Ryerson of the Stuart Weitzman School of Design, a leading expert on air transportation and the recipient of several Kleinman Center research grants.

The weeklong annual meeting drew in students, faculty, industry professionals, and practitioners from a variety of transportation disciplines to learn about new research in transportation. Karam, Nam, and Ryerson presented their research to the Airport Terminals and Ground Access Standing Committee and shared insights on the metric they developed to measure accessibility to the aviation system under the perspective of equity.

“Foundational methods around aviation access don’t present the complete picture of accessibility, focusing heavily on locational impedance and physical ground access,” Karam said. “These metrics tend to be narrowly defined because they focus more on how an individual can access the airport physically, rather than individual constraints that affect their ability to access aviation supply.”

Discussions around equitable aviation systems planning are especially relevant today. The COVID-19 pandemic as well as President Biden’s infrastructure plan are redefining the future of airport development. For instance, the recent federal bipartisan infrastructure bill in 2021 allocates $25 billion toward improving airport access for historically disadvantaged populations.

Students Shriya Karam (left) and Stephanie Nam (right) presented their research.
Students Shriya Karam (left) and Stephanie Nam (right) presented their research.
Photo credit: Megan Ryerson

“If we want to truly prioritize airport development around improving access for disadvantaged populations,” Nam said, “planning methods need to consider the restrictions and constraints that may impede these individuals’ access.”

At TRB, Karam and Nam presented on their mathematical formulation of accessibility – the Aviation-accessibility Integrated Mobility (AIM) metric –  that centers individual constraints in an accessibility calculus. Their findings indicate that proximity to airports does not imply high accessibility and that the incorporation of individual constraints greatly influences the calculation of accessibility. Additionally, they find that transportation supply and service characteristics alter the distribution of accessibility.

“This work ultimately supports potential policy recommendations to expand traditional federal airport infrastructure projects under a perspective of equity and accessibility, such as targeted air service enhancement,” said Ryerson.

Karam, Nam, and Ryerson would like to thank the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy for supporting this research and travel opportunity.