Homebuilding okay in hangars

You probably know someone who is building an aircraft in a hangar at a publicly owned airport. It may surprise you to know that, until recently,  the FAA considered that activity outside the appropriate use of a hangar.

On July 22 the FAA released a proposed policy statement stating that the final assembly of homebuilt aircraft can be done in airport hangars at publicly owned airports.

In the past, some airport managers didn’t allow this, stating that hangars were to be used for full operational airplanes. As a result, aircraft were built in backyards and garages, then hauled on flatbed trucks to the airport for final assembly and test flight.

“This policy is a big win for homebuilders,” said Dick Knapinski, Senior Communications Advisor for the Experimental Aircraft Association, “in that it formally allows homebuilding in hangars on airports that receive federal money. Part of the confusion emerged as some homebuilders thought that building an aircraft was already a protected aeronautical activity within a hangar. It was not, although some airport managers made a local interpretation and allowed it as part of a hangar lease. Other airport managers maintain that only completed, active aircraft are allowed in hangars.”

According to Knapinski, the EAA worked with the FAA during the drafting of the policy.

“Our work with the agency was primarily education, emphasizing the key points that homebuilding must be included as a protected aeronautical activity, and that some non-aeronautical items that do not interfere with the primary aeronautical use of a hangar should be allowed,” he explained.

According to docket number FAA-2014-0463, much of the construction on a homebuilt aircraft can be done off airport property, and it is only when the aircraft is in final assembly stages and needs access to the airport that it is appropriate for it to be in a hangar.

Knapinski noted that the EAA is pushing the FAA to clarify the term “final assembly.”

“EAA maintains that the term ‘assembly’ or  ‘construction’ of an aircraft, regardless of what point in the project, should be allowed as a protected aeronautical activity,” he said. “We understand that airports want to avoid a situation where a homebuilt project is nothing more than a collection of unassembled parts for years and years — especially when there may be a waiting list for hangar space. EAA also maintains that if a project remains active it should be allowed within a protected aeronautical activity.”

The proposed policy was two years in the making. According to background documents on the FAA website, the policy was the result of inspections across the country that discovered hangars being used as storage facilities for non-aviation items such as cars, motorhomes and, in some cases, inventory from non-aviation related businesses. At some airports, it was actually the airport owner who was misusing a hangar, according to FAA officials, noting some cases in which city ground vehicles were kept in airport hangars.

The policy applies to all users of aircraft hangars, regardless of whether a user is an owner or lessee of the hangar, including airport sponsors, municipalities, and other public entities on a federally obligated airport, according to FAA officials.

The proposal states, “Hangars located on airport property must be used for an aeronautical purpose, or be available for use for one, unless otherwise approved by the FAA. These uses include storing of operational aircraft, final assembly of aircraft, short-term storage of non-operational aircraft for purpose of maintenance, repair or refurbishment.” The policy does not define what length of time is considered “short term.”

It’s up to the aircraft owners to make sure they are following local regulations, says Knapinski, because they can vary from airport to airport.

“While this policy does provide important guidance to airports, hangar leases are ultimately local rental agreements subject to a number of local ordinances and codes,” he said. “ I’ve heard of some airports where hangar leases designate that owners of any type of aircraft cannot change their own oil, for instance. Aircraft owners should always read and understand what is in a lease agreement before signing it.”

The policy goes on to state that some non-aviation items can be in the hangar provided they are owned by the hangar owner or tenant, occupy an “insignificant” amount of hangar space, and do not require a larger hangar than would otherwise be necessary if such items were not present. That means it’s okay for the bicycle you store in the hangar next to your Cessna 172 to be there, but the motorhome that sleeps six probably isn’t.

Public comments are being accepted until Sept. 5. You can comment online at Regulations.gov, reference Docket FAA-2014-0463, or by mail to  Docket Operations, U.S. Department of Transportation, West Building, Ground Floor, Room W12-140, Routing Symbol M-30, 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE., Washington, DC 20590.


  1. KW says

    Lie down with dogs, wake up with fleas.

    When you take Federal money, you have to live under the control of Federal bureaucrats, many of whom don’t like general aviation.

    If there’s an airplane in the hangar, who cares if there’s other stuff in there too? It’s not like the hangar gets smaller if you don’t use the space. I’d be willing to bet that pretty much everyone at the FAA has stuff in their garages at home that isn’t “automotive related.”

  2. Dennis Reiley says

    I agree that a hangar is for aircraft that is either flyable or will shortly be so. That said if you have a hangar that is solely for your use and you keep your aircraft in it you should also be able to keep a desk, chair, cot, refrig etc. as long as it does not interfere with the aircraft entering or leaving the hangar.

  3. Jeff G says

    Y’all need to read the whole rule. As I understand the building of an airplane from start to finish would NOT be permitted. Nor would the storage of anything else. The only exception given was for example a small refrigerator.
    I use my hanger to store my airplane and fly weekly or more. If I want to keep some tools, some parts and a desk to flight plan on, what difference should it make. None. As long as the stored items do not interfere with the use of the hanger as a place to store a airplane why should anyone care.
    Under the proposed rule the building of an aircraft will still be prohibited, except for final assembly where the tenant would need access to the taxi-ways and runways. Read carefully people.
    While hangers should not be used to store, as a primary purpose, non aviation items, I think the government is going a little too far telling a pilot he can’t keep his airport authorized golf cart next to his plane, (which he uses as a tug). Yes this is happening!

  4. Paul says

    My position on this agrees with the FAA position, i.e. hangar space should be reserved and used exclusively for aeronautical related business and not an adjunct storage facility for every other form of “junk” unrelated to aeronautics. I don’t even like the idea of installing a refrigerator or lounge facilities which are obviously for home use, not airport hangar use. Bring a brown bag and/or cooler. Active, ongoing building of an airplane or routine maintenance on it in addition to storing it should intuitively be regarded as aeronautical activity. Keeping tools on site for the aforesaid activity should be permissible. Storage of gasoline or lubricants in containers other than in the airplane should be prohibited in accordance with local fire codes. This is not a big deal.

  5. Kent Misegades says

    The recent flurry of announcements from the EAA has only served to confuse and anger homebuilders who – despite Rod Hightower’s claim to the contrary – remain the hard core of the organization. The EAA is guilty at a minimum of poor management of the announcement – they shoujld have included the general membership in this dicussion from the very start. Instead, some non-homebuilding officers of the organization once again made policy with the FAA behind closed doors. Is it any wonder that EAA members question the leadership of an organization that is STILL without a replacement for Hightower?

  6. Brett Hawkins says

    I really don’t get this.

    I can understand that if pilots are actively searching for hangar space and find local airport hangars are being rented for non-aviation purposes they would be angry and rightfully so.

    On the other hand, I have rented municipal T-hangers at two large airports in Puget Sound (after years on waiting lists) and stored unused cars, household furniture and other possessions carefully tucked around my small operational homebuilt for over 15 years. The only complaints were from the airport fire dept e.g. no fuel containers (full or empty), no space heaters (connected or not) and similar safety concerns.

    What is the public interest in preventing lessees and owners of leased, condo or stand-alone hangers from using excess space to store stuff in addition to their planes? Are large public rental storage companies complaining to the FAA about “unfair competition” e.g. but for pilots storing their cars, snow tires, boats and other stuff in airport hangars they would have to pay for space at the local storage businesses? Is this “the subsidy”?

    As for completing projects and maintaining operational homebuilts, what is a builder/owner supposed to do if he can’t work in his hangar? Most A&P’s I’ve met hesitate to work on homebuilts for all the expected reasons, and maintenance facilities are not available at every “obligated airport”. Why do you think the FAA hands out repairman certificates to builder/owners? No one knows an airplane as well as its builder.

    • Tom says

      Good comments. Thanks for taking time to make them.

      Even though the government provides money for the airport, it’s my understanding that money is used for the runways or perhaps taxiways etc. They aren’t paying for the hangars so it follows then that it is only a remote indirect benefit to those using the hangars for the government to be providing funds for the runways, etc. Yes, perhaps that is an advantage because the hangars wouldn’t be there if the runway wasn’t there but keep in mind that it is only the airplane that the pilot has that will get benefit from the runway. His motor home isn’t getting any direct benefit from the runway. Am I not missing something?

      • Brett Hawkins says

        Tom, I used to be based at a nice, city-owned airport in the Idaho panhandle. As more and more bizjets started using the airport for vacation access, a developer started construction on a luxury vacation-home-over-hangar neighborhood just west of the runway.

        The project was based on a “through the fence” easement with taxiways serving the vacation homeowners. The city initially jumped on board, and FAA approval was sought. Streets and utilities were installed, and one or two model homes were completed before the FAA eventually announced that the easement was unacceptable as long as the city was taking Fed dollars for the airport. Construction ceased, litigation commenced, and the city’s lawyers are probably sending their kids to Harvard at local taxpayer expense.

        I assume the explanation is that ordinary citizen-taxpayers should not be subsidizing the conversion of a public airport into a semi-private residential air park. It is no problem if Citations land, taxi over to the FBO ramp, purchase a couple of thousand bucks of Jet-A and fly home on Sunday evening. Having the runway appear to serve owners of luxury homes and toys just across the fence was apparently unacceptable.

        I guess the private hangar storage issues are just an extension of this policy of not allowing “elite” pilots to mooch off the other taxpayers who have to rent space at the local Mini-Storage. The facts don’t add up to this, so it is nothing more than politics.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *