FAA bans new airport access pacts

 - April 27, 2011, 12:40 PM

A provision in the House FAA reauthorization bill that greenlights residential through-the-fence (RTTF) access agreements at general aviation airports has drawn opposition from the National Air Transportation Association (NATA).

NATA is concerned that the provision in the “FAA Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2011” (H.R. 658) threatens the federal investment in the nation’s public-use airports and jeopardizes the businesses at those airports.

In late 2009, the FAA released a draft guidance letter that stated there are no forms of acceptable RTTF agreement because they violate federal grant assurances signed by the airport owner in return for federal funds being spent for airport development.

In September 2010, the agency published a proposed policy explaining that numerous RTTF agreements currently exist at public-use airports and in some cases may not be easily revoked by the airport. The basic framework of the proposed policy prohibits airport owners from entering into any new RTTF agreements while allowing existing RTTF agreements to continue under tighter federal oversight.

On March 18, the FAA adopted an interim policy permitting continued existing RTTF access to a federally obligated airport from an off-airport residence, subject to certain standards, but prohibiting new RTTF access.

According to AOPA, the 75 known airports with RTTF access can continue with their current agreements, but the airport sponsors (owners) must submit detailed access plans to their district airports office or regional airports office for review.

The FAA said the 2010 policy review highlighted a number of differences among the airports identified as having residential through-the-fence arrangements. “As a result, the FAA believes it will take more time and more detailed information to better understand these arrangements and how they impact each airport sponsor’s ability to comply with its grant assurances,” the agency wrote in its March 18 interim policy filing. ”The goal of the interim policy is to strike a careful balance by accommodating residential through-the-fence access where it already exists.”

In adopting this interim policy, the FAA said it intends to initiate another policy review of RTTF access to federally funded airports in 2014. This time frame will give the agency the experience it needs in reviewing RTTF access via the access plans, and understanding how to mitigate the real and adverse effects of these arrangements. Additionally, it will allow the agency to complete a separate, ongoing general aviation airport study that is analyzing the federally assisted GA airport system.

NATA said it has long been concerned that allowing RTTF agreements at public-use airports encourages residential development at those airports. “Residential development in proximity to airports has led to many of the issues that negatively impact airport development, including noise, pollution and land-use concerns,” the association said. “With this interim policy, the FAA strikes a balance between existing RTTF users and the future needs of public-use airports.”

Noting that the Senate FAA reauthorization bill does not contain a provision legalizing new RTTF agreements, NATA said it would work with the Senate “on eliminating this harmful provision” when a House/Senate conference committee meets to work out differences in the two bills before the final bill is sent to President Obama to sign.