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Wed, Sep 22, 2010

FAA Official Tells House Committee TTF Won't Fly At Public Airports

Catherine Lang Says Federal Funds Could Be Withdrawn If New Agreements Signed

The FAA's Assistant Administrator for Airports (acting) Catherine Lang testified before the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee Wednesday, reiterating the agency's stance against Through the Fence agreements at airports receiving federal airport grants.

"(T)he fundamental distinctions between public use, public purpose airports and private airparks have begun to blur. While private airparks serve an important and cherished purpose for members of the aviation community, AIP funds must be used strategically and responsibly at NPIAS airports that serve public purposes and retain those characteristics expected from public use airports," Lang told the committee in opening remarks.

According to committee documents, there are approximately 3,300 publicly funded airports which form an essential part of the nation’s transportation network. The majority of these airports are used by general aviation pilots who depend on modern, serviceable infrastructure to take off and land safely. In some cases, the government says that federal taxpayer money is being spent to operate and maintain public airports where private homeowners who live on adjacent property enjoy an exclusive right of access for their personal airplanes between their property and public airport operational surfaces. Airport owners and operators grant this right of access to homeowners by way of agreements known colloquially as “through-the-fence” agreements.

The agreements have created concern among some Federal, State, and local officials because, the officials say, the agreements limit airport sponsors’ rights and powers to use airport land for development and other public purposes, and the officials are further concerned that the agreements encourage incompatible land use that creates legal and safety problems for local airports. Other officials believe that airports should be able to enter into these agreements as long as the airports continue to comply with grant assurances.

The hearing summary says that proponents of through-the-fence access believe the access helps them create a lifestyle that they value. They enjoy the ability to come and go in their personal aircraft at their leisure. Homeowners with direct through-the-fence access say they share communal interests in monitoring airport activities and operations and in supporting general aviation in their communities. Proponents say through-the-fence access also benefits local airports, because homeowners with the access often pay access fees that enlarge local coffers.

The committee summary says that homeowners with through-the-fence access may realize direct and indirect financial benefits as the result of Federal investment in airports. The values of their homes and land may increase by virtue of access to airport surfaces. Real property on which a hangar home is constructed, after all, would have little to no utility if not connected to an airport with infrastructure funded by Federal money, and with the level of quality such Federal investment provides. However, this situation has raised questions regarding whether, in some instances, these Federal investments primarily benefit private interests at the expense of pursuing national policy objectives. Federal law requires the FAA to make grants to “maintain a safe and efficient nationwide system of public-use airports that meets the present and future needs of civil aeronautics.”

Lang (pictured, right) said the FAA understands the importance of GA airports. "GA airports play a vital role in the NPIAS, as well as in their local communities. For communities all over the country, GA airports have for decades been where we train our pilots, have provided medical and law enforcement response, enabled aviation to be at the front lines of response to natural disasters, been the backbone of agricultural communities, and enabled deliveries to remote locations. It is for these purposes that Congress enacted the Airport Improvement Program, and it is these purposes that are protected by grant assurances," she said. She also indicated that the FAA's concerns were not directed at private airports, but towards public airports which receive federal grants.

She warned that the FAA, and some local government, are concerned that the agreements constitute a de-facto subsidy for private homeowners, and have a major impact on the property values of those communities. She said that in some instances, homeowners with TTF agreements had opposed airport improvement projects, and that the proximity of the homes to active taxiways can present safety issues. "Based on our experience and observations, we believe that residential through-the-fence arrangements have the potential to do far greater harm than good," she said. "If the control exercised by an airport sponsor is compromised, harm is done. If an airport that was selected for inclusion in the NPIAS based on a strategic long-term vision no longer has the ability to grow and fulfill its role, harm is done. If public monies can be spent to correct deficiencies or problems caused by residential through-the-fence arrangements, harm is done."

Public comment on the FAA's proposed TTF policy is open through October 25th. "I encourage those users to comment and look forward to receiving their input," Lang said. "I believe our staff has given full and fair consideration to all the ideas and feedback we have received up to this point in the process, and I assure you that we will continue to be open minded as we review the public comments on our draft policy."

FMI: http://transportation.house.gov, www.faa.gov

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