The FAA last week issued guidance enacting an AOPA-backed program that could go a long way toward preserving privately owned general aviation airports. AOPA had lobbied to get the pilot program included in the FAA reauthorization bill - Vision 100. This demonstration program will allow the FAA to buy the "development rights" at up to 10 privately owned public-use airports. And that means those airports will stay airports - forever.
The program is modeled after a successful New Jersey program that has kept privately owned public-use airports like Central Jersey Regional and Lincoln Park from being closed and sold to developers.
"We saw the success that New Jersey had saving airports with their purchase of development rights program and felt it should be duplicated on a federal level," said AOPA President Phil Boyer.
AOPA worked closely with Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) who was instrumental in getting the new pilot program included in the FAA reauthorization bill. And AOPA also worked with the FAA to develop the "Program Guidance Letter," which actually implements the program.
The program works by looking at what an airport is worth as an airport, and what it would be worth if it were developed as a shopping mall or subdivision or for some other non-aeronautical use. Then the FAA can pay the airport owner the difference between the two, buying an easement that guarantees the airport will stay open forever.
The program has the potential to protect a significant number of airports from redevelopment. Out of some 5,400 public-use airports in the United States, 1,154 airports - 22 percent - are privately owned.
Many of these airports are family businesses that started off in open fields and eventually grew into bustling general aviation airports. But for some airport owners who are struggling financially, selling the property to a developer can look very attractive.
"Buying the development rights creates a win for everyone," said Andy Cebula, AOPA senior vice president of Government and Technical Affairs. "The airport owner can recapitalize his business, and the aviation community is assured it will always have a place to land."
August 25, 2004