E-Bird Archive

E-Bird news items since July 2015

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

A Capitol idea: Fairfax County consultants help prevent air traffic from colliding with construction 

Construction cranes looming above Tysons Corner and Reston are a reminder of the building boom that's taking place in Fairfax County. In the airspace, just to the west, jetliners glide through the skies on their approach to Dulles International Airport.

So, who makes certain construction and flight patterns don't conflict?

Turns out that a homegrown company is one of only a handful of firms that helps ensure, both locally and globally, that skyward construction doesn't interfere with airline safety.

Capitol Airspace Group, located in the Fairfax County portion of Alexandria, is an aviation consulting firm that provides analytical and advocacy services for companies wanting to build tall things that could encroach on air traffic operations.

"We pride ourselves on our ability to assist airports and developers in striking a balance between the need for economic development and the preservation of the National Airspace System," says Capitol's founder and president Ben Doyle.

Doyle, a 1990 graduate of Annandale High School, didn't set out to become an expert in this field. While at West Virginia University and in the Marine Reserves, he thought he might become a pilot. When he joined the Army, he became an air traffic controller.

That's until he realized the need and commercial potential of a company that could measure with precision the potential impacts of structures in close proximity to airports or within flight paths.

The company's roots extend back to 1999, when Doyle built an airspace practice for Aviation Management Consultants Inc. of Alexandria. Ten years later, he bought out his former employer and launched Capitol Airspace.

"We started looking at airspace in a very different way from our competitors and pushed some out of the market," Doyle said. "Now, there are really only four companies in the country doing what we do."

In fact, Capitol Airspace is the only such company based north of Florida on the east coast and anywhere in the northern half of the U.S. Doyle views Capitol's proximity to the FAA, Department of Homeland Security, the Pentagon and other regulatory agencies as a major advantage. 

Doyle's company has produced more than 28,000 filings with the FAA and works on about 400 projects a year. It has consulted on everything from a 1,500-foot tower in Kansas (roughly equivalent to a 150-story building) to the landmark High Roller Ferris wheel on the Las Vegas Strip.

His firm has examined projects around small, general aviation airports and large ones like LAX and LaGuardia. And it's done work everywhere from Canada to Tel Aviv to Mumbai. It's not just skyscrapers that bring the business. Bridges, solar towers, transmission lines and wind turbines are other examples. Structures as short as 20 or 30 feet can create concern if they're close enough to the end of a runway.

"Wind turbines have been a boon to our business," Doyle says. "Unlike a building in downtown Miami that is tied to a city block, wind turbines can be moved around. Wind developers come to us and say: 'Tell me where I can build it.'"

Expansion created a dilemma for Doyle. In order to grow his company he needed to find employees with the right kind of knowledge. "We started by hiring veterans in the aviation industry," he said. "The problem was that they had a wealth of knowledge in the subject matter but very few skills when it came to the GIS (geographical information systems) technology. They knew how to fly but barely knew how to turn on a computer. Our candidates coming right out of college were savvy on the technology side, but we had to teach them everything on the aviation side." 

To meet the demand, Doyle implemented an internship program, primarily relying on his connections at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida. Six of his 12 current employees began as interns and Capitol Airspace plans to run its intern program again this summer, seeking additional post graduates.

"If we were in a law firm or an accounting firm, I could put an advertisement out and have a lawyer working full-time tomorrow," he says. "But there is no one that's trained for this kind of work outside of the federal government. Every new employee is essentially an apprentice for two or three years until they really know what they're doing. We've got to teach them and make sure they understand it."

Doyle takes pride in going the extra mile to reward and retain those he's trained.

"Our young people are very well paid," he says. "We wanted to create something that would enable people to live their lives and still be able to retire by (age) 50 if they choose. The culture here is very important to me. We want them to spread their wings. Our whole environment has been about creating a workplace where people want to go to work -- and I think it's worked. We have an incredibly dedicated staff. Sometimes I have to walk around and tell people to go home."

Doyle, whose firm also offers flight procedure optimization and glint-and-glare studies, admits there's a degree of enjoyment, being able to "shine" as a "big fish" in a small pond of consultants.

"What we do is so specialized that it's a lot of fun to work in this space with our level of expertise," he says. "When you walk into a hearing and speak with members of a city council or county board and you know that you're the only one in the room who knows anything about what you're talking about, there is a cool factor to that."

Capitol Airspace Group is located at 5400 Shawnee Road, Suite 304, Alexandria, VA 22312.  703-256-2485; www.capitolairspace.com.  

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