A capacity crowd turned out July 30 at EAA AirVenture to meet and hear from new FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt. I was all prepared to ask him about thru the fence problems but Brent Blue from Driggs, Idaho, got to ask a question before I did.
The administrator said in his roughly two months on the job he had heard a lot about the issue but he turned to one of his top management team members who handles airports to answer the question. He said the FAA has consistently opposed thru the fence arrangements because they are a “non- conforming land use.”
As he completed that sentence the standing room only crowd let out a very large groan, indicating strong disagreement with the answer. After the noise subsided, EAA President and Convention Chair Tom Poberezny, who was moderator for the session, remarked to Babbitt that it was pretty apparent that the audience didn’t agree with that answer.
If Blue hadn’t beaten me to the question, here’s what I would have said:
First I was going to explain my background of gathering data on residential airparks for more than 35 years as a way to show the administrator that I had some credibility in this arena. Then I was going to add that in the last year I’ve become particularly concerned by actions of the Northwest Mountain Region’s efforts to eliminate residential thru the fence agreements at public airports. Some other regions are also taking some actions, but not as agggressively as the Northwest Mountain Region. This action simply doesn’t make any sense.
Residential (or commercial) thru the fence projects provide additional security because there are people on site 24/7. They know every non-based airplane or person arriving there.
The thru the fence fees paid to the airport help support the facility, in addition to the taxes they pay just like everyone else.
Residential airpark residents support their local FBOs with maintenance, fuel purchases, instruction, etc.
Thru the fence agreements have been operating safely, efficiently and profitably for all sides for over 40 years. An excellent example is Independence Airport, in Oregon, a state-owned airport with about 140 residential properties operating with thru the fence agreements.
Why all of a sudden has the FAA started this action on thru the fence agreement airparks where people are strong airport supporters and aren’t likely to complain about noise or imagined crash fears.
How can that be a “non-confirming land use”?
What is the rationale for such an effort?
I’m publishing this and sending a copy direct to Babbitt and looking for him and the agency to come to some sanity in this issue.
AOPA recently joined in this discussion, changing its earlier stance of supporting the FAA’s position to one calling for a change in attitude. That’s a very good sign and I applaud AOPA.
At this point all I can say is “keep tuned” and hopefully we’ll have some good news in the not too distant future.