FAA Freezes Preformed Thermoplastic
By Mike Speidel
On August 9, 2016, a memo was sent from FAA headquarters in Washington, DC to all of its Regional Airport Division Managers. The memo was passed on to Airport Certification Safety Inspectors, who then distributed it to their respective networks of Part 139 Airports. The subject: Preformed Thermoplastic Airport Pavement Markings. I'm going to summarize what it said; to read a PDF version, click the image to the right.
The FAA has received feedback from a few airports that preformed thermoplastic markings have not met expected life cycles. Additionally, based on its experiences, a manufacturer has recommended excluding the use of preformed thermoplastic in very specific instances. The FAA Technical Center is currently studying the durability of paint and beads, and the viability of a water-based structured methacrylate and preformed thermoplastic. Federal funding will be suspended for preformed thermoplastic markings at least until the FAA Technical Center's study is completed.
By now you've probably heard about this memo, or at least a version of it as it travels through the industry like a game of telephone. Speaking of which, my phone began to ring off the hook on August 9th with all kinds of questions about what the memo meant. I'm hoping to bring some clarity as to where preformed thermoplastic stands today, because this situation is still evolving. So here it goes...
A little background: In 2009, preformed thermoplastic was approved for use on airfields in the FAA Advisory Circular 150/5370-10E. The AC required specialized equipment and certified applicators to install the material. Since, the use of preformed thermoplastic has been specified and applied in countless airfield construction projects at airports of every size. The cost of the material is greater than traditional waterborne paints, however its durability can justify the higher initial investment. AirMark, originally manufactured by Flint Trading (now Ennis-Flint), was designed specifically for use on airfields. To my knowledge, Ennis-Flint remains the only manufacturer of preformed thermoplastics for airfields.
I have heard several airports' interpretations of what the memo meant - everything from "We have to remove it all!" to "Will we be written up by our inspector?" The only thing I can be sure of from the memo is the FAA will not fund any more preformed thermoplastic until conclusions are made of the durability study; I don't know how long the study may last. In the meantime, it appears you may be able to use it as you normally would, provided you're paying for it.
You can probably imagine how the FAA's memo went over with the manufacturer, Ennis-Flint. The memo was unexpected as they had no knowledge of it before you or I did. Since, they have responded with a couple memos of their own; one to the FAA, and another to its network of AirMark Certified Applicators. The memo in response to the FAA included the following:
A follow-up meeting between the manufacturer and FAA was held this past Friday, September 23. Assuming anything changes as a result of that meeting, we will keep you updated with any new information.
While it's important to constantly evaluate marking performance in the field, I may have handled this situation another way. Admittedly, I do not know all the details, however, in my humble opinion, relying on data from "a few airports" to dictate what is permitted for 500+ airports seems hasty. I have seen countless issues with all of the approved materials (peeling paint, anyone?), yet they continue to be eligible for federal funds.
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