The FAA has taken great strides toward a more enlightened policy on permitting residential through-the-fence (TTF) access for airparks at public-use airports, AOPA President Craig Fuller told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in a statement prepared for its Sept. 22 hearing on those operations.
But, Fuller continued, the agency needs to be careful not to limit its options in the future. And it needs to focus on an even more pressing issue: airport sponsors that allow incompatible land use, such as nonaviation residential communities, immediately adjacent to airports.
At issue are existing residential airparks at about 75 public-use airports that are either eligible to or already have received federal aviation grant money. An FAA policy determination in 2009 found that airport sponsors must either take immediate action to terminate existing TTF agreements or risk being cited for grant obligation violations. Since that initial decision, the FAA has met with AOPA and numerous others in the aviation community to better understand the issue.
“We are pleased to see that the newly issued FAA policy recognizes the need to maintain these airports and a willingness to accept existing access agreements. We also believe that the agency must work with each airport sponsor to implement a plan to ensure the safety and security of the airport and the public,” Fuller wrote.
The hearing looked into the FAA’s new policy, which allows current access agreements to continue but shuts the door to possible future arrangements.
“We are seeking a balance between the interests of homeowners who own and operate aircraft, and the interests of the government and the public at large, who have invested substantial sums to develop the airports involved,” said Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.).
Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.), ranking member of the aviation subcommittee, and Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), who has introduced legislation relevant to the hearing, expressed concern about the revised policy’s prohibition of the development of any future residential airparks at public-use airports eligible to receive federal grants.
“Residential through-the-fence agreements may not make sense at every airport, but they do make sense at many locations and in some communities provide much needed aviation and local property tax revenue,” Petri said. “While there may be isolated issues at some locations, in general hangar homes are owned by aviation enthusiasts who love the industry and lifestyle. What better neighbors could a general aviation airport ask for?”
Graves said that the door should remain open to future agreements. He explained that “decisions made about existing and potential agreements are carefully deliberated by local communities and rightfully so. I’m not saying every airport should or should not have residential TTF agreements, I’m just saying it should be their right to choose.”
“The Committee members showed extensive knowledge and understanding of through the fence agreements” said Lorraine Howerton, AOPA vice president of legislative affairs, who attended the hearing. “As a result of this hearing, I believe Congress will continue to be engaged on this issue.”
Fuller suggested that such an inflexible edict may end up being short-sighted.
“AOPA believes that the agency should not close the door completely to [residential through-the-fence access] proposals,” he wrote. “There may be circumstances in the future where an agreement to allow such access would bring significant economic development opportunities to the airport without the need for significant federal investment in the airport infrastructure. Such opportunities could be valuable in ensuring the financial health of the airport, and allow it to make its highest contribution to the community. In doing so, AOPA believes that the FAA has the ability and responsibility to set the standards for such requests at a very high level in order to protect the airport, any existing federal investment, and the future safety and growth potential of the airport.”
Finally, Fuller commented that he would like to see the FAA spend more effort addressing broader incompatible land-use issues. He pointed out that this issue affects less than 3 percent of airports in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS), and there are many other airport sponsors who allow nonaviation related residential development to take place around their airports and this should be a priority of the FAA. “Such development is an incompatible land use that presents a grave threat to the ongoing unrestricted use of these airports. We look forward to continuing our work with the FAA and this Committee in fighting this growing problem for America’s community airports.”