Nebraska airport zoning bill boosts safety margin

June 3, 2013

The unicameral Nebraska Legislature has approved and sent to Gov. Dave Heineman an AOPA-backed bill to keep instrument approach paths free from new obstacles by expanding airport approach zones from three miles to 10 miles and revising outdated language in the state’s Airport Zoning Act.

The bill was sponsored by District 10 state Sen. Bob Krist, a pilot and AOPA member, who urged in committee testimony that lawmakers act to maximize airports’ use of modernized instrument approach technology. The measure also will bring the state’s airport zoning into conformance with FAA requirements.

In essence, Legislative Bill 140 prohibits construction of structures in approach zones higher than 150 feet within three miles of the runway, up to a maximum height of 900 feet at 10 miles from the runway in designated approach zones.

Yasmina Platt, AOPA Central-Southwest regional manager, also testified in favor of the bill on behalf of AOPA’s 2,600 members in Nebraska. She pointed out to lawmakers that without the provisions of LB 140, encroachment on approach zones could force the FAA to raise approach minimums—making the procedures less efficient, and reducing the return on aircraft owners’ investments in navigation equipment.

Platt credited Krist and his staff for generating momentum for the bill’s passage after a similar measure stalled in a previous session. She also expressed appreciation for the work of Rodney Storm, city administrator and airport manager of Blair, Neb., to move the measure forward.

Krist, testifying at a Jan. 25 hearing of the Government, Military and Veteran Affairs Committee, discussed the need for obstruction-free approach zones, and briefed lawmakers on the emergence of satellite-based aviation technology that now provides instrument approach capabilities at many airports for the first time.

“An airport hazard reduces the size of the area available for landing and takeoff and maneuvering the aircraft, thus tending to destroy or impair the utility of the aircraft,” he said. “Lengthening the approach zones from three miles to ten miles helps Nebraska statutes conform with the current Federal Aviation Administration and the Nebraska Department of Aeronautics' zoning and licensing standards.”

Krist explained how GPS-based instrument approaches can provide benefits to a community without requiring investment in ground-based navaids. “Many of the people who are flying airplanes as small as Cessna 150s to as big as G5s, Gulfstream G5s, are flying with GPS approaches requiring no navaids. What does that do? Increases the safety margin—allows us to medevac people out of Banner County and get them to a medical facility in all weather conditions. And that really is the issue,” he said.

Platt also emphasized that the bill would prevent new obstructions from causing approach minimums to be raised, thereby protecting past investment in aviation infrastructure.

“The bill helps warranty that airports will be able to continue to provide Nebraska's rural communities with the ability to provide emergency and routine medical services in a variety of weather conditions, while continuing to promote over $700 million in economic development by Nebraska's general aviation airports,” she said.

Krist, a sponsor of about 25 bills in the current session, had designated the bill as one of his top priorities for passage. The measure now awaits Heineman’s signature, Platt said.