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New rule strengthens protections for airports, airspaceNew rule strengthens protections for airports, airspace

An update to FAR Part 77 includes stronger protections for the National Airspace System and private airports.

Part 77 governs how the FAA protects the nation’s airspace and airports from obstructions--thus ensuring continued access for all aviation users. A final rule published July 21 will allow for greater lead time in assessing tall structures and provide for protection of instrument approaches into private-use airports.

“AOPA worked with the FAA over the past two decades to encourage greater protection of U.S. airports and airspace and supported the changes that have been adopted in the final rule,” said AOPA Senior Director of Airspace and Modernization Heidi Williams. “We view the changes as a positive step in protecting our nations’ airspace and general aviation airports.”

Currently, builders are required to apply 30 days prior to construction to give the FAA time to study the effects of the structure. AOPA supported extending the notification requirement because in many cases 30 days is not enough time to complete a thorough study, especially if the proposed structure’s height and/or location would require the FAA to seek public comment. The final rule, which takes effect Jan. 18, 2011, requires 45 days of notice.

In another positive step for general aviation, the rule adds a notification requirement for construction near private-use airports with an instrument approach. Private-use airports do not currently receive the same protections from the FAA as publicly owned, public-use airports. However, with this final rule, the FAA has adopted a provision that provides airspace protection around a private-use airport with an instrument approach procedure (IAP). AOPA supported the change to offer this needed protection because the IAP is impacted if obstructions pop up around the airport. The FAA agreed, and now builders must notify the FAA if building around a private-use airport with an IAP.

With the final rule, the FAA shelved a few provisions from the 2006 proposal pending further review. AOPA had raised concerns with proposed expansions of the “imaginary surfaces” for GA airports, protected areas surrounding the runway, and asked for additional analysis to find out more about potential unintended consequences of the change; the association was concerned that this expansion would decrease the amount of land available for taxiways, aprons, and hangars, preventing some smaller airports from making improvements. The FAA did not include this provision in the final rule andhas undertaken a more comprehensive and coordinated effort to consolidate all agency requirements for the treatment of obstacles in the airport environment. 

Among other provisions, the final rule includes a minor change to the obstruction standard for tall structures. The FAA also signaled it is deferring plans to develop electromagnetic interference obstruction standards until it can fully coordinate with the FCC and review the effects of this type of interference.

Obstructions to airspace include anything from trees to cell towers and tall buildings. Find out more about obstructions in AOPA’s advocacy brief.

Topics: Advocacy

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