I just finished your article “To save our airports” (July 22 issue). It is frustrating that politics saps so much joy from everyday GA operations.
After following this subject for years, including leaseholder issues, business growth and finance problems, stability and viability in GA, community relations and “good neighbor” operations, I have come to believe that we are trying to maintain an obsolete airport model for a modern world. We should start by redefining airport. Start thinking of it as a zoned community, rather than the defined boundaries of public land.
The idea I would like to see seriously studied is for public airports to divest themselves of all land except landing and taxi surfaces and that which is needed for navaids. The rest should be zoned for aviation-only activity (business or aviation airpark residential), then sold.
As you have seen, GA growth is retarded by the absolute powers of others. Aviation businesses are stifled by the inability to own the land under their buildings. Too many FBOs have been closed because the airport (government) had contradicting views of what services were needed in the marketplace. Think of how this could unshackle the imagination of entrepreneurs who no longer need to comply with the vision of what an airport authority believes an aviation business should be — or not be!
More fly-in motels? Airport super-malls? Airport motorsports (airplane/automobiles/RVs/motorcycles/snowmobile/ boat) sales and service centers? Aviation-focused, airport based high schools?
Airport survivability is strengthened when there is a community of private owners surrounding the public facility. And, the airport open space which is so envied by developers disappears as aviation-conscious individuals begin purchasing land around the field. It is harder to evict private owners from their land than it is to convince voters that an airport caters to a privileged few. Similarly, it is easy to close a rural road surrounded by public land. It is nearly impossible to close Main Street when private property owners have a stake in the result.
I am convinced that if people like you or me could purchase land, erect a hangar, and sell this private property to other like-minded individuals — all free of some airport minimum-standard or short term lease obligation — this would have a greater effect on our survivability than all “save general aviation” programs combined!
I think this is sound economically. Now, acres of land are returned to the private sector, boosting the tax base of local communities. With the promise of greater profits to GA comes the opportunity to become better neighbors. Airports will operate more efficiently, too, now that they are divorced from the distraction of playing landlords to leaseholders and can instead focus on managing the essential infrastructure of the field.
The spin-off is that the power held by airport government authorities is reduced, which places the future of general aviation in the hands of individuals rather than bureaucrats. And by dissolving the line between the aviation community and the surrounding community, general aviation should become less mysterious, less exclusive. Let me emphasize that point again: By reducing the exclusivity of general aviation, we become accessible, understandable and desirable.
This is the “Burt Rutan” approach to problems — let individual initiative thrive with as little government intervention as possible. All talk of privatizing public airports turns the management over to corporations, but land ownership and overall access is still limited under all such plans.
People raise two complaints. First, how will airports survive without the funding from leases? I think this is a non-issue. The sale of land will generate a large reserve. The considerable taxes generated by private land ownership could be channeled towards airport operations. Airport expenses will decrease with less land to maintain.
Secondly, how can we maintain the security of the airport (landing surface and taxiways)? I think surrounding the field with sensitive, educated, private owners is a more secure situation than a single government entity trying to maintain a long border. Look at the story of the recent Minuteman border patrol project in Arizona — hundreds of individuals can succeed in stopping security breeches when the best government efforts fall short.
Railroads were given land to fund the development of railways throughout the country. The companies soon found it was more profitable to be in the land business, and today the U.S. railway system is but a shadow of what it could be. On the other hand, the interstate highway system is a recognized part of the nation’s transportation infrastructure. An individual or company can own land right next to the paved surface, unencumbered by land leases or “minimum standards.” For general aviation to survive and thrive, I feel this model of the interstate highway system is the equality we should be pushing for in the next 100 years.
Just some thoughts which develop in frustration as we fight to grow general aviation in an imperfect world.
Thomas J. Nagorski