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.