FAA releases mandated residential 'through the fence' policy

July 26, 2012

The FAA, acting under a congressional mandate requiring the agency to honor agreements that provide pilots with access to airport runways and taxiways from their private residential property, released its interpretation of that policy July 27. The agency is soliciting public comment on the so-called “residential through the fence” policy.

AOPA will analyze the FAA’s discussion of its obligation to maintain through-the-fence access to general aviation airports, and will submit formal comments on the notice, said Bill Dunn, AOPA vice president of airport advocacy.

The filing, which addresses residential, but not commercial access, was said to contain “no surprises,” Dunn said.

“The filing is the FAA’s interpretation of the congressional mandate,” he said. “As an example, the FAA told us that the literal wording in the law prohibits any commercial activity on the residential property. That could be interpreted as the homeowner not being allowed to have a home-based business like Avon. The FAA’s interpretation will clarify that no commercial aeronautical activity can be based at the residential property.”

The FAA’s filing provides a glimpse of its intended response to language included in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 by Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), a co-chairman of the House GA Caucus. The section inserted by Graves assures that a GA airport’s sponsor cannot be deemed in violation of federal grant assurances “solely because the sponsor enters into an agreement that grants to a person that owns residential property adjacent to or near the airport access to the airfield of the airport” for the person’s authorized aircraft.

The issue has been a hot-button topic for GA since 2009, when the FAA announced that it was planning to eliminate through-the-fence operations, ending access to airport runways and taxiways from homes and businesses located on private property.

Advocacy efforts produced agreement from the FAA to work with aviation groups in a compromise, although the agency continued to insist on freezing through-the-fence access to the approximately 75 known airports where policies were in place. As discussions proceeded, the FAA published interim rules for residential through-the-fence operations in March 2011. 

In February, Congress passed the first long-term extension of the FAA’s operating authority since 2007. AOPA reported that the $63.4 billion measure, which contained no user fees or fuel-tax increases, contained Graves’ provision assuring that no GA airport sponsor’s airport improvement grants would be jeopardized by entering into through-the-fence agreements.

The FAA’s interpretation of the congressional mandate emphasizes that no aviation-related commercial or revenue-producing activities can be conducted from residences with through-the-fence access to airports, Dunn said.

AOPA urges members to submit comments on the issue.