A recent FAA decision to allow residential through-the-fence access to continue at Independence State Airport in Independence, Ore., indicates the agency may be adopting a more flexible stance toward residential access to federally funded airports.
Through-the-fence access consists of homes and businesses on private property that have access to airport taxiways or runways. The FAA had in the past discouraged such use but conditionally approved some residential through-the-fence access at federally funded airports, setting a very high standard for what constituted an acceptable agreement; however, the agency signaled a change in approach more than a year ago when FAA officials in the Northwest Mountain Region began seeking to terminate existing access at several airports immediately. AOPA became directly involved in the issue and has been consistently working on influencing the FAA to take a more reasonable and balanced approach rather than an outright ban.
“Long-term, consistent, patient advocacy on this issue is paying off,” said AOPA Vice President of Airports and State Advocacy Greg Pecoraro. “AOPA continues to work with the FAA to strike a balance that protects airports and those based on the airport while accommodating those individuals who want residential access at airports where it would be a benefit to the airport. This issue is not a sprint, but a marathon, and will take time.”
AOPA first engaged with the FAA airports office about the issue after officials in the Northwest began to seek to terminate existing access. This engagement led the FAA to begin a conversation with the aviation community, and the agency invited aviation users to comment on a draft letter of guidance that would call for phasing out all existing residential through-the-fence access at public-use airports.
The FAA continued its dialogue with AOPA and decided to tour airports with through-the-fence access to gather additional information and better understand the “real world” of what was occurring. The agency is now taking a second look at the draft based on input from the aviation community.
The Independence Airpark at Independence State Airport was among those communities visited by the FAA. In a letter to the Oregon Department of Aviation, the FAA indicated that the airpark at Independence State had access agreements that were consistent with FAA guidance, and that the FAA has no plans to require the department to take any additional corrective action regarding the residential airpark.
AOPA worked with other aviation organizations to assist members of Congress in drafting legislation to address the issue, and has met with FAA officials and commented on various FAA documents. The association has focused on presenting the consistent argument that the FAA should accommodate existing residential through-the-fence access and set reasonable standards for approval of future access agreements, including the collection of reasonable fees for access to the airport.