By NATA Director, Regulatory Affairs – Michael France
I have always thought that one of the most difficult jobs to have would be that of sports official, umpire or referee. Whether at the professional, college, high school or even Little League level, the demand to make the right call every time is enormous! Add to that the fact that sports fans are notorious for adhering to the philosophy that any call against their favorite team is a “bad call,” and officials are in a no-win situation. I mention this because I think that sometimes the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is in the same position on certain issues — no matter what decision they issue, there is going to be a group that is unhappy. Such may be the case with the FAA’s new interim policy on residential through-the-fence (RTTF) agreements.
The FAA’s interim policy on RTTF agreements basically allows existing RTTF agreements to continue, albeit under closer scrutiny, while prohibiting any new agreements from being signed. Additionally, the interim agreement goes a step further in proposing that the agency review the policy again in 2014, after receiving input from “any person who would be interested in a specific approval of new residential through-the-fence access at a federally-obligated airport.” Despite the fact that the FAA has allowed existing RTTF agreements to continue and has vowed to reevaluate its position in the near future, I am quite certain that there will be a group that is dissatisfied with the policy because it does not allow airport sponsors the sole discretion in determining the appropriateness of RTTF agreements.
NATA believes that the FAA has made the right call. First, nothing in this policy prevents “hangar-homes” from being developed at airports. What this policy does require is a decision from airport sponsors about what role they envision for their airport. Sponsors that wish to be a part of the National Airspace System and receive federal funds for development must accept, under this policy, certain restrictions on their authority to pursue RTTF agreements. This restriction is not a new idea. Sponsors have always been required to agree to the federal grant assurances, which set specific limits on how they operate their airports for the purposes of ensuring that the federal investment pays dividends to all airport users and the public in general. Airport sponsors not wanting these restrictions are free not to accept federal funds and to operate the airport in any manner they see fit (after satisfying the agreements for any funds they received in the past).
So, the sole question becomes, Is encouraging residential development around airports in the best interest of the long-term utility of publicly funded airports and their users? Allowing RTTF agreements at public-use airports will act as an encouragement for residential development near those airports as sponsors look to increase revenue, especially in this time of tight local and municipal budgets. Some argue that since pilots and aviation enthusiasts would most likely be the residents of this new development the typical concerns with residential development near airports would be negated. However, pilots and aviation enthusiasts would be as likely as any other resident to oppose airport expansion or modification plans if they negatively affected their property values or their enjoyment of their property
NATA believes that it is vital to our membership and our national aviation system that airports remain flexible enough to evolve and expand as needed to meet future demand. We believe the FAA has made the right call on this issue by allowing the agreements that have already been signed to continue but prohibiting new RTTF agreements at federally funded airports.