Aircraft Hangar Risk Assessments: Everything You Need to Know

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Pierce Lushinsky, P.E.


February 8, 2024

An aircraft hangar risk assessment is a critical step in ensuring the fire safety of a hangar. But what does it entail, and what do owners and operators need to know about it? We explore everything in this short guide.

In 2022, NFPA 409, Standard on Aircraft Hangars, underwent major changes to allow more customized fire suppression approaches for aircraft hangars. One such method was the risk-based approach, which offers a holistic assessment that aligns with the specific needs of the hangar. This comprehensive guide explores its core elements and process.

What Is an Aircraft Hangar Risk Assessment?

What Risk Management Elements Need to Be Documented?

Who Performs an Aircraft Hangar Risk Assessment?

What Steps Does the Process Include?

What Is an Aircraft Hangar Risk Assessment?

An aircraft hangar risk assessment is a data-gathering exercise used to determine the safety and associated hazards of new and existing aircraft hangars. It’s a customized and effective approach that allows you to identify specific areas of vulnerability, evaluate the effectiveness of safety measures, and strategically plan targeted risk mitigation strategies.

The aircraft hangar risk assessment is one of three fire suppression approaches outlined in the 2022 edition of NFPA 409, the Standard on Aircraft Hangars developed by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). While it’s not mandatory, aircraft hangar owners may choose the risk assessment option because it allows them to get a tailored solution that meets their specific needs.

The Problem with Other Approaches

Previous editions of NFPA 409 used a “one-size-fits-all” prescriptive approach to aircraft hangar fire suppression. This often resulted in hangars installing costly foam suppression systems, which was problematic because detergent-based foams are corrosive to aircraft. In addition, an accidental foam system discharge results in an average insurance claim in excess of $1 million. Within the United States, on average, there is one accidental discharge of a foam fire suppression system within a hangar per month

Today, aircraft hangar owners who pursue the risk assessment method may find that they don’t need a foam suppression system, which can save them a considerable amount of money upfront and headaches down the road. It all depends on the hazards and risks identified when the risk assessment team evaluates the hangar.

What Risk Management Elements Need to Be Documented & Considered?

According to NFPA 409, Section 4.2, there are 21 risk management elements to consider when determining the acceptable fire risk level:

  1. Type and quantity of fuel in the aircraft
  2. Type of operations and activities performed within the aircraft storage and service area
  3. Risk of flammable/combustible liquid spills and equipment or the process for containment and control
  4. Life safety aspects of an emergency event within the aircraft storage and service area
  5. Fire threat to the hangar occupants, exposed property or operations in aircraft storage, and service areas
  6. Continuity of service, operation, and the effects of business interruption, including the business or operational impact of a loss of aircraft (specifically military and unique aircraft)
  7. Quantity, size, and value of the aircraft within the hangar
  8. Size and value of the hangar
  9. Economic loss from loss of function or business interruption
  10. Economic loss from the value of equipment other than the aircraft or the hangar
  11. Regulatory and reputation impact
  12. Potential environmental impact
  13. Construction and compartmentation of the aircraft storage and service area
  14. Fire suppression and detection features provided for the aircraft hangar
  15. Response time by emergency forces to an alarm
  16. Local firefighting capabilities and resources
  17. Evaluation and acknowledgment of hull and hangar insurance representatives
  18. Redundant infrastructure, including off-site aircraft hangars to support operations
  19. Redundant equipment, including replacement aircraft and other equipment within the aircraft hangar or the aircraft
  20. Life safety of emergency responders, the general public, and occupants of aircraft storage and service areas and adjacent spaces
  21. Life cycle costs

By meticulously documenting and considering these factors, you can develop robust strategies to minimize fire risks, protect assets, and maintain the safety and continuity of aircraft storage and service operations.

Who Performs an Aircraft Hangar Risk Assessment?

A multi-disciplinary team is responsible for conducting the aircraft hangar risk assessment. This team involves various stakeholders, including:

  • Fire protection engineers
  • Architects
  • Property managers
  • Aircraft operators
  • Airport directors/managers
  • Fire marshals
  • Building code officials

This team has the knowledge and experience to thoroughly evaluate and address diverse aspects of safety, structural design, operational procedures, and regulatory compliance relevant to aircraft hangars.

What Is the Process for an Aircraft Hangar Risk Assessment?

The aircraft hangar risk assessment involves nine key stages:

  1. Initiation
  2. Approval and planning
  3. Data gathering
  4. Qualitative analysis
  5. Balancing risk and protection
  6. Feasibility checks
  7. Approval and implementation
  8. Documentation and communication
  9. Ongoing maintenance and reevaluation

#1. Initiation

When building a new aircraft hangar, the owner must decide which fire suppression approach to pursue. To navigate this decision-making process, the owner will often engage with a fire protection engineer specializing in designing effective fire safety solutions. These professionals are equipped to discuss various options and help owners determine the most suitable strategy for their specific needs.

If they land on the risk-based approach, the engineer will reach out to the code official to start the next phase.

#2. Approval & Planning

Before any work can be done, the fire protection engineer faces a vital step in the process – obtaining approval to utilize the risk assessment approach from the code official. This pivotal phase ensures the proposed risk assessment aligns with the regulatory standards and guidelines governing fire safety in aviation facilities.

The fire protection engineer collaborates closely with the code official to present and gain approval for the comprehensive plan. Once the code official signs off on the proposed risk assessment, it marks the green light for the risk assessment team to assemble and initiate the next steps.

#3. Data Gathering

The fire protection engineer takes the lead in collecting data essential for a comprehensive evaluation of potential risks. This data-gathering process is carefully executed through a combination of methods, including the distribution of questionnaires and conducting meetings with all stakeholders involved. The objective is to garner insights into various facets of hangar operations and safety considerations.

The 21 risk assessment elements, as outlined in NFPA 409 Section 4.2, serve as a structured framework during this data collection. Each element is carefully documented, covering critical aspects such as the type and quantity of fuel present in the aircraft, the operations conducted within the hangar, and the potential economic and environmental impacts of a fire and the various methods that may be utilized to suppress or mitigate a fire.

#4. Qualitative Analysis

With the gathered data in hand, the risk assessment team moves into a crucial phase of qualitative analysis. This is where the foundation for assessing the level of risk associated with various aspects of hangar operations is established.

Risks are categorized based on severity, differentiating between moderately risky and extremely risky. The aim is to provide a nuanced understanding of the risks posed to the hangar, considering the specifics of its operations. This categorization becomes instrumental in the subsequent steps of the risk assessment process, particularly when determining the most suitable fire protection systems.

#5. Balancing Risk & Protection

Building upon the qualitative analysis, the next critical step in the aircraft hangar risk assessment process is to balance the identified risk level and the selection of appropriate fire protection measures. The overarching goal is to develop a tailored plan that aligns precisely with the identified risks associated with the hangar's operations.

Armed with the insights derived from the qualitative analysis, the fire protection engineer formulates a comprehensive protection plan. The plan includes the most suitable fire protection systems, ensuring they are neither excessive for low-risk operations nor insufficient for high-risk scenarios. This meticulous approach guarantees that the protection strategy is finely tuned to the unique needs of the aircraft hangar.

#6. Feasibility Checks

The fire protection engineer shares their proposed protection measures with the design team to guarantee that the recommended solutions align with the structural and operational constraints of the facility. Factors such as structural integrity, weight considerations, and logistical feasibility are carefully evaluated to guarantee that the protection plan can seamlessly integrate into the construction process.

#7. Approval & Implementation

Once the proposed protection strategy receives approval from all stakeholders and the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ), it’s up to the project team to oversee the installation of fire suppression systems, structural enhancements, and other safety measures.

#8. Documentation & Communication

The risk assessment generates comprehensive documentation that outlines limitations, design assumptions, and criteria. This documentation is shared with the facility and code officials for ongoing awareness and compliance.

#9. Ongoing Maintenance & Reevaluation

The hangar operator and owner are responsible for ongoing maintenance and adherence to the risk assessment. If there are substantial changes to operations, the risk assessment may be reevaluated to ensure continued effectiveness.


The aircraft hangar risk assessment is revolutionizing how hangars are protected from fires. Its dynamic, customized, and proactive approach leads to more effective and sustainable fire protection measures. As more hangar owners recognize the advantages of this risk-based approach, it’s likely to become a cornerstone in shaping the future landscape of fire safety strategies for aircraft hangars.

When you need a fire protection engineer for your aircraft hangar risk assessment, choose Performance Based Fire for the best results. Contact us today to get started.