Public comments are interesting…or can be. Following are but three comments made at the Sept. 22 hearing of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on an FAA proposal to prohibit any new residential through the fence (TTF) agreements at publicly-funded airports that are part of the National System of Airports and therefore eligible for Airport Improvement Program grants, also known as NPIAS airports.
“When you’ve seen one airport, you’ve seen one airport,” stated Catherine Lang, acting associate administrator for the Office of Airports for the FAA.
“I am here to testify that residential through the fence agreements on public use airports should not be eligible for AIP funding,” noted Anne Crook, airport manager of the Elmira Corning Regional Airport in New York.
“We are pleased to report to the committee not a single publicly-owned NPIAS airport in our state has residential through the fence access. This is certainly not due to the fact no has ever asked. Our initial response to the airport sponsor has always been ‘just say no’,” testified Carol Comer, aviation programs manager, Georgia Department of Transportation. (Incidentally, Comer herself is a pilot, aircraft owner and resident of a privately-owned and privately-used airpark.)
The FAA wants to dictate what local airport owners (cities, towns, counties and states) can and cannot do with their airports. While no one should be naive to think there are not strings attached to federal money, removing flexibility from local airport owners/operators is nothing more than a power grab in DC.
Back to Lang’s testimony: “In the course of eight months, the policy review team met with a wide variety of interested parties, including aviation associations, state officials, airport sponsors, and impacted residents. The team also conducted site visits at five airports with residential through the fence access.”
Wow, a whole FIVE airports were visited by the policy review team. The FAA has identified 75 federally-funded airports with residential TTF agreements in place.
As I mentioned before, the FAA wants to prevent any future residential TTF agreements at publicly funded airports. Period. End of discussion. Yet when questioned, Lang stated that, “when you’ve seen one airport, you’ve seen one airport.” I get the logic. Based on seeing one airport (or five in this case), the policy review team has determined they know what is best for the 3,332 NPIAS airports owned by cities, towns, counties and states around the United States.
Keep in mind, an airport sponsor agrees to 39 federal assurances when accepting federal AIP money. Lang, from her prepared testimony, said, “these assurances are designed to protect the public aeronautical characteristics of the airport, encourage good airport management, and impose conditions to protect the public purpose for which the investment of taxpayer dollars was made.”
With perfectly vague goals as these, is it any wonder differences of opinion arise? Will someone please point out what “good airport management” looks like? Like parenting, what is good for one child may not be for another.
Lang continues, “these conditions include requirements pertaining to fair and reasonable rates and charges, airport layout plans, maintenance and operation consistent with safety standards, and prohibitions on discrimination and revenue diversion.”
Okay, these specifics have a little more meat. But all vary from airport to airport based on a variety of locally governed issues. The only nationally consistent item from the above list is “maintenance and operation consistent with safety standards.” And that is as it should be. However, allowing access to an airport from off-airport property does not make an airport unsafe — at least not in ALL cases.
Why should you care? After all, only 75 of the 3,332 NPIAS airports enjoy residential TTF agreements. What if one of the other 3,257 airport owners decide a neighboring airpark community is just what the doctor ordered? After all, attracting airport proponents to the neighborhood could be deemed “good airport management,” could it not? If the FAA gets its way, this option (not a requirement) will be removed from the arsenal of tools that airports should have at their disposal to survive and thrive.
Weigh in at Regulations.gov. FAA Docket No. FAA-2010-0831.
Ben Sclair is publisher of General Aviation News.