How Much Does it Cost to Build an Airport?
Ever thought about building your own airport? Despite what many people think, it is entirely possible to plan and build an airport.
Over 14,000 of the 19,000 listed airports in the US are fully or partially privately owned, and many individuals own and operate their own small airstrips and grass airports for hobbyists. So owning and operating your own airport is a much more attainable goal than many initially think.
On average, the cost to build an airport is between 1 to 2 billion dollars. On the other hand, smaller private airports for charter flights start at about $10 million to build. A private grass airstrip can cost as low as $100,000.
There are a lot of things that go into determining the costs to build an airport. So today we are going to talk about the necessary costs to build and operate your own airspace.
Costs to Build an Airport
The cost of an airport varies significantly depending on its size and scope. For example, one of the largest commercial airports in the world, Dallas-For-Worth, and Denver International, each had a construction cost of 3.2 Billion and took 5 years to build.
However, there are several other kinds of airports that traffic primarily in private and individual use. The two main kinds of smaller airports are private grass airfields for personal hobbyist use and private airports for chartered and non-airline flights.
Private Grass Airstrip Costs
The cheapest form of an airport is a simple private airstrip. Many people buy a plot of open land and create a grass runway for small personal planes.
Creating a small private airstrip is the ideal solution for an aviation hobbyist who wants a secure place to store and use their plane.
When it comes to a private airstrip, there are three major cost factors
- Plane storage
The first and most obvious thing to buy is the land. Most aviation hobbyists and experts agree that the minimum dimensions for a suitable grass airstrip are approximately 1,500’ x 75’.
Any smaller than that and you will have trouble getting any planes off the ground with sufficient coverage.
The average cost per acre of land in the US is about $12,000 per acre. A 1,500’ x 75’ plot of land is about 2.5 acres (112,500 sq. ft.).
You probably won’t be able to find a plot with the exact dimensions you need, so you’ll have to buy something larger. So you can expect to spend a minimum of $50,000 just for runway space.
The $12,000 figure above is just an average and may differ significantly depending on your area. For example, an acre of land in Mississippi only costs $3,000 on average.
Not just any plot of land will do, though. It has to be one with enough vertical length for a runway and enough clearance away from obstructions like highways, power lines, and other homes. These considerations will narrow your search significantly.
The next major cost is land development. This can include clearing trees, cutting brush, leveling land, and seeding grass. You can pay professionals to do this landscaping for you, but the job is usually straightforward enough that you could do it on your own.
It costs about $300 a day to rent a sizable riding tractor with attachments for leveling land. Doing this on your own can take a few weeks, but you may end up spending less than hiring a firm to do it for you.
One other consideration is laying down new grass. According to HomeAdvisor, the average cost for seeding new grass is between $0.09 and $0.18 per square foot.
Assuming you only want to seed the 1,500’ x 75’ plot, that comes out to between $10,000 and $20,000 for grass.
This next part is optional, but many aviation hobbyists want a place where they can store their planes. A basic steel airport hangar is a cost-effective structure where you can store your plane and other aviation equipment.
There are two major types of airport hangars: rigid steel-frame and arch-frame. All other things being equal, arch-frame hangars are easier to set up and cost less to build.
The smallest aircraft hangars measure about 40’ x 40’, but most aviation hobbyists will want at least an 80’ x 80’’ enclosure for their planes and equipment.
Here is a table with the average costs for steel-frame structures. These costs are averages and may differ depending on your location and the construction company.
|Size (ft)||Estimated Price|
|80 x 80||$40,000|
|80 x 200||$90,000|
|100 x 100||$80,000|
|200 x 200||$180,000|
|300 x 200||$250,000|
|300 x 300||$300,000|
If you want a suitable private hangar, then you can expect to spend a minimum of $40,000. Generally speaking, the larger space you build, the less per square foot you will pay for materials and labor.
Many people end up storing their planes in another location, so they do not have to worry about the costs of building a hangar.
What About a Paved Runway?
The costs we noted above are for a grass runway airport. But what if you wanted to create a paved runway, more like the kind you would find at a larger commercial airport?
Runways costs will vary heavily depending on the design, materials, labor costs, total size, and development/planning costs. For a private airplane runway, you will be using either concrete or asphalt.
According to ETSAP, the average cost for a standard concrete runway about 70’ (20m) wide is between $4,400 and $7,000 per meter in length. For asphalt, the cost for the same dimensions of paved ground cost about $4,000 per linear meter of length.
Based on these figures, a 1,500 ft. paved runway will cost anywhere between $2-$3 million to build. That cost does not include permits and fees for creating a paved structure, which could be another 3%-5% of the project cost.
So we’ve covered the costs of a small private airport; what about the costs of a larger private airport for charter and non-airline flights?
Here the calculations get very complex. It is hard to give a single average cost because airports can vary so much in size, facilities, planes, and amenities.
At a first estimation, a private airport would cost upwards of $10 million simply for land, facilities, and infrastructure. Most private charter airports do not publish their costs and revenues, so it is very hard to figure out the average costs of these kinds of facilities.
Commercial Airports Cost
The last kind of airport is the large commercial airport. Despite how well known these types of airports are, there are only about 500 public commercial airports in the country.
Commercial airports are very large and so represent a major capital investment. That is one reason why they are often funded by federal and state money, rather than private investors.
According to ETSAP, the average cost to build a commercial airport is $4,500 per square meter for the terminal structures and $4,000 per linear meter for runways.
These kinds of airports easily cost billions of dollars to build. For example, The Hong Kong International Airport and the Kansai International Airport of Japan are the two most expensive airports in the world and cost $20 billion to construct, each.
Even smaller regional airports can top $200 million to build and another several million to maintain.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can anyone build an airport?
Yes, anyone can buy some land and build an airport for personal use. You can also build a small airport for private charter flights, but you will need to get the proper licenses and permits before you start charging people for flights and landings.
How long does it take to build an airport?
It depends on the scope of the project. A small, grass airstrip shouldn’t take more than a few months to get up and running—faster if you hire professionals to do landscaping for you.
A larger project with runways and a terminal can take years to create, from design and planning to materials acquisition and construction.
How large does an airport need to be?
A small airstrip for personal use only needs a few acres for a runway and some space for storage. A small private airport meant for charter and private flights will need to be a few hundred acres, depending on the number of flights and amenities offered.
Large commercial airports typically need a minimum of 3,000 acres to house the terminals, runways, hangars, and other support structures.
Airports come in all shapes and sizes and are owned by both private and public entities. The goal of owning an airstrip is one that many aviation fans have. Fortunately, it is entirely within your reach to build and operate your own airstrip.