Aviation safety is an important concern in the operation of an airport, and almost every airfield includes equipment and procedures for handling emergency situations. Airport crash tender crews are equipped for dealing with airfield accidents, crew and passenger extractions, and the hazards of highly flammable aviation fuel. The crews are also trained to deal with situations such as bomb threats, hijacking, and terrorist activities.
Hazards to aircraft include debris, nesting birds, and reduced friction levels due to environmental conditions such as ice, snow, or rain. Part of runway maintenance is airfield rubber removal which helps maintain friction levels. The fields must be kept clear of debris using cleaning equipment so that loose material does not become a projectile and enter an engine duct (see foreign object damage). In adverse weather conditions, ice and snow clearing equipment can be used to improve traction on the landing strip. For waiting aircraft, equipment is used to spray special deicing fluids on the wings.
Many airports are built near open fields or wetlands. These tend to attract bird populations, which can pose a hazard to aircraft in the form of bird strikes. Airport crews often need to discourage birds from taking up residence.
Some airports are located next to parks, golf courses, or other low-density uses of land. Other airports are located near densely populated urban or suburban areas.
An airport can have areas where collisions between aircraft on the ground tend to occur. Records are kept of any incursions where aircraft or vehicles are in an inappropriate location, allowing these "hot spots" to be identified. These locations then undergo special attention by transportation authorities (such as the FAA in the US) and airport administrators.
During the 1980s, a phenomenon known as microburst became a growing concern due to aircraft accidents caused by microburst wind shear, such as Delta Air Lines Flight 191. Microburst radar was developed as an aid to safety during landing, giving two to five minutes' warning to aircraft in the vicinity of the field of a microburst event.
Some airfields now have a special surface known as soft concrete at the end of the runway (stopway or blastpad) that behaves somewhat like styrofoam, bringing the plane to a relatively rapid halt as the material disintegrates. These surfaces are useful when the runway is located next to a body of water or other hazard, and prevent the planes from overrunning the end of the field.
Airports often have on-site firefighters to respond to emergencies. These use specialized vehicles, known as airport crash tenders.
Aircraft noise is a major cause of noise disturbance to residents living near airports. Sleep can be affected if the airports operate night and early morning flights. Aircraft noise occurs not only from take-offs and landings, but also from ground operations including maintenance and testing of aircraft. Noise can have other health effects as well. Other noise and environmental concerns are vehicle traffic causing noise and pollution on roads leading to airport.
The construction of new airports or addition of runways to existing airports, is often resisted by local residents because of the effect on countryside, historical sites, and local flora and fauna. Due to the risk of collision between birds and aircraft, large airports undertake population control programs where they frighten or shoot birds.
The construction of airports has been known to change local weather patterns. For example, because they often flatten out large areas, they can be susceptible to fog in areas where fog rarely forms. In addition, they generally replace trees and grass with pavement, they often change drainage patterns in agricultural areas, leading to more flooding, run-off and erosion in the surrounding land. Airports are often built on low-lying coastal land, globally 269 airports are at risk of coastal flooding now. A temperature rise of 2oC – consistent with the Paris Agreement - would lead to 100 airports being below mean sea level and 364 airports at risk of flooding. If global mean temperature rise exceeds this then as many as 572 airports will be at risk by 2100, leading to major disruptions without appropriate adaptation.
Some of the airport administrations prepare and publish annual environmental reports to show how they consider these environmental concerns in airport management issues and how they protect environment from airport operations. These reports contain all environmental protection measures performed by airport administration in terms of water, air, soil and noise pollution, resource conservation and protection of natural life around the airport.
A 2019 report from the Cooperative Research Programs of the US Transportation Research Board showed all airports have a role to play in advancing greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction initiatives. Small airports have demonstrated leadership by using their less complex organizational structure to implement newer technologies and to serve as a proving ground for their feasibility. Large airports have the economic stability and staff resources necessary to grow in-house expertise and fund comprehensive new programs.
A growing number of airports are installing solar photovoltaic arrays to offset their electricity use. The National Renewable Energy Lab has shown this can be done safely.
The world's first airport to be fully powered by solar energy is located at Kochi, India. Another airport known for considering environmental concerns is Seymour Airport in the Galapagos Islands.
An airbase, sometimes referred to as an air station or airfield, provides basing and support of military aircraft. Some airbases, known as military airports, provide facilities similar to their civilian counterparts. For example, RAF Brize Norton in the UK has a terminal which caters to passengers for the Royal Air Force's scheduled flights to the Falkland Islands. Some airbases are co-located with civilian airports, sharing the same ATC facilities, runways, taxiways and emergency services, but with separate terminals, parking areas and hangars. Bardufoss Airport, Bardufoss Air Station in Norway and Pune Airport in India are examples of this.
An aircraft carrier is a warship that functions as a mobile airbase. Aircraft carriers allow a naval force to project air power without having to depend on local bases for land-based aircraft. After their development in World War I, aircraft carriers replaced the battleship as the centrepiece of a modern fleet during World War II.
Most airports in the United States are designated "private-use airports" meaning that, whether publicly- or privately-owned, the airport is not open or available for use by the public (although use of the airport may be made available by invitation of the owner or manager).
Airports are uniquely represented by their IATA airport code and ICAO airport code.
Most airport names include the location. Many airport names honour a public figure, commonly a politician (e.g., Charles de Gaulle Airport, George Bush Intercontinental Airport, O.R. Tambo International Airport), a monarch (e.g. Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, King Shaka International Airport), a cultural leader (e.g. Liverpool John Lennon Airport, Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport, Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport) or a prominent figure in aviation history of the region (e.g. Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport), sometimes even famous writers (e.g. Allama Iqbal International Airport) and explorers (e.g. Venice Marco Polo Airport).
Some airports have unofficial names, possibly so widely circulated that its official name is little used or even known.
Some airport names include the word "International" to indicate their ability to handle international air traffic. This includes some airports that do not have scheduled international airline services (e.g. Port Elizabeth International Airport).
The earliest aircraft takeoff and landing sites were grassy fields. The plane could approach at any angle that provided a favorable wind direction. A slight improvement was the dirt-only field, which eliminated the drag from grass. However, these functioned well only in dry conditions. Later, concrete surfaces would allow landings regardless of meteorological conditions.
The title of "world's oldest airport" is disputed. College Park Airport in Maryland, US, established in 1909 by Wilbur Wright, is generally agreed to be the world's oldest continuously operating airfield, although it serves only general aviation traffic.
Beijing Nanyuan Airport in China, which was built to accommodate planes in 1904, and airships in 1907, opened in 1910. It was in operation until September 2019. Pearson Field Airport in Vancouver, Washington, United States, was built to accommodate planes in 1905 and airships in 1911, and is still in use as of January 2020.
Hamburg Airport opened in January 1911, making it the oldest commercial airport in the world which is still in operation. Bremen Airport opened in 1913 and remains in use, although it served as an American military field between 1945 and 1949. Amsterdam Airport Schiphol opened on September 16, 1916, as a military airfield, but has accepted civil aircraft only since December 17, 1920, allowing Sydney Airport—which started operations in January 1920—to claim to be one of the world's oldest continuously operating commercial airports. Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport in the US opened in 1920 and has been in continuous commercial service since. It serves about 35,000,000 passengers each year and continues to expand, recently opening a new 11,000-foot (3,355 m) runway. Of the airports constructed during this early period in aviation, it is one of the largest and busiest that is still currently operating. Rome Ciampino Airport, opened 1916, is also a contender, as well as the Don Mueang International Airport near Bangkok, Thailand, which opened in 1914. Increased aircraft traffic during World War I led to the construction of landing fields. Aircraft had to approach these from certain directions and this led to the development of aids for directing the approach and landing slope.
Following the war, some of these military airfields added civil facilities for handling passenger traffic. One of the earliest such fields was Paris – Le Bourget Airport at Le Bourget, near Paris. The first airport to operate scheduled international commercial services was Hounslow Heath Aerodrome in August 1919, but it was closed and supplanted by Croydon Airport in March 1920. In 1922, the first permanent airport and commercial terminal solely for commercial aviation was opened at Flughafen Devau near what was then Königsberg, East Prussia. The airports of this era used a paved "apron", which permitted night flying as well as landing heavier aircraft.
The first lighting used on an airport was during the latter part of the 1920s; in the 1930s approach lighting came into use. These indicated the proper direction and angle of descent. The colours and flash intervals of these lights became standardized under the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). In the 1940s, the slope-line approach system was introduced. This consisted of two rows of lights that formed a funnel indicating an aircraft's position on the glideslope. Additional lights indicated incorrect altitude and direction.
After World War II, airport design became more sophisticated. Passenger buildings were being grouped together in an island, with runways arranged in groups about the terminal. This arrangement permitted expansion of the facilities. But it also meant that passengers had to travel further to reach their plane.
An improvement in the landing field was the introduction of grooves in the concrete surface. These run perpendicular to the direction of the landing aircraft and serve to draw off excess rainwater that could build up in front of the plane's wheels.
Airport construction boomed during the 1960s with the increase in jet aircraft traffic. Runways were extended out to 3,000 m (9,800 ft). The fields were constructed out of reinforced concrete using a slip-form machine that produces a continuous slab with no disruptions along the length. The early 1960s also saw the introduction of jet bridge systems to modern airport terminals, an innovation which eliminated outdoor passenger boarding. These systems became commonplace in the United States by the 1970s.
The malicious use of UAVs has led to the deployment of counter unmanned air system (C-UAS) technologies such as the Aaronia AARTOS which have been installed on major international airports.
Airports have played major roles in films and television programs due to their very nature as a transport and international hub, and sometimes because of distinctive architectural features of particular airports. One such example of this is The Terminal, a film about a man who becomes permanently grounded in an airport terminal and must survive only on the food and shelter provided by the airport. They are also one of the major elements in movies such as The V.I.P.s, Speed, Airplane!, Airport (1970), Die Hard 2, Soul Plane, Jackie Brown, Get Shorty, Home Alone (1990), Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992), Liar Liar, Passenger 57, Final Destination (2000), Unaccompanied Minors, Catch Me If You Can, Rendition and The Langoliers. They have also played important parts in television series like Lost, The Amazing Race, America's Next Top Model (season 10), 90 Day Fiancé, Air Crash Investigation which have significant parts of their story set within airports. In other programmes and films, airports are merely indicative of journeys, e.g. Good Will Hunting.
Several computer simulation games put the player in charge of an airport. These include the Airport Tycoon series, SimAirport and Airport CEO.
Each national aviation authority has a source of information about airports in their country. This will contain information on airport elevation, airport lighting, runway information, communications facilities and frequencies, hours of operation, nearby NAVAIDs and contact information where prior arrangement for landing is necessary.
Infraero is responsible for the airports in Brazil
A comprehensive, consumer/business directory of commercial airports in the world (primarily for airports as businesses, rather than for pilots) is organized by the trade group Airports Council International.