Late last year, the Federal Aviation Administration released a draft compliance letter to FAA airport inspectors outlining the agency’s policies in regard to through-the-fence agreements at federally obligated airports. The policy outlined in the draft letter was well designed and generally anticipated, except for one small area regarding residential through-the-fence (RTTF) agreements. Regarding RTTF agreements, the FAA stated that residential use adjacent to airports is an “incompatible land use” and since RTTF agreements encouraged that type of development they were a violation of federal grant assurances that require airport sponsors to work to prevent incompatible land uses around airports. The FAA went on to state that there were “no acceptable forms of RTTF” and that airport sponsors signing RTTF agreements may well be violating federal grant assurances.
The problem with the draft guidance letter’s position on RTTF is that at the time it was written there were many federally obligated airports with active RTTF agreements in place for years, some even approved by regional FAA offices. Groups in support of RTTF agreements began blasting the FAA, some even going so far as to say that the new policy was little more than a personal vendetta by some at the FAA against residential airparks. Through the noise, one thing became clear: the existing policy did not make sense!
This week, the FAA has released a proposed policy on RTTF agreements (policy on commercial TTF agreements remains unchanged). This proposed policy groups RTTF agreements into three classes: new, existing and additional. New RTTF agreements, since they have a serious potential to harm long-term airport utility, are not allowed and the federal grant assurances would be changed to make that explicitly clear. Existing RTTF agreements would be allowed to continue under a “TTF Access Plan” developed by the individual airports and approved by the FAA. Additional RTTF agreements (new access points for current RTTF agreements or extended or renegotiated RTTF agreements) would be subject to stricter guidelines before the airport could approve them.
Sensible solutions to complex issues aren’t often found in government, but this might just be that rare occasion. The FAA has proposed a policy that maintains a standard for investment in airport development that helps to secure the future utility of airports while acknowledging and allowing for the fact that RTTF agreements exist and in some cases were even mistakenly allowed by FAA personnel. While some advocates for RTTF agreements may not be happy with this solution, the ultimate goal is to ensure that federal dollars are well spent and benefit the public in general when spent at our nation’s airports.
Now if Congress could just find a sensible solution for passing FAA reauthorization!
Submitted by: Michael France, NATA Director of Regulatory Affairs, firstname.lastname@example.org
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