FAA Issues Common-sense Hangar Use Policy

 - June 15, 2016, 4:32 PM
Under FAA guidance, hangars at small airports can be used for non-aeronautical purposes if there is no immediate aviation use for the building. The guidance is a relief for many, who feared the agency would issue a much more stringent rule. (Photo: Nigel Moll)

When the FAA announced in 2014 that it would be introducing new hangar-use regulations at grant-assured airports, many hangar tenants viewed the rulemaking process with suspicion, concerned that they would be forced to dispose of comforts of home such as refrigerators, barbeque grills, pin-ups and lawn chairs.

Last week the agency issued its final policy on the non-aeronautical use of hangars, and fears of a draconian hangar sterilization policy, bent on eliminating everything but aircraft storage, proved unfounded. Rather, the FAA has adopted a commonsense approach that likely takes into account the more than 2,400 public comments it received.

Since the publication of a 1999 GAO report regarding the need for oversight of and enforcement on unauthorized land use at general aviation airports, the FAA has been conducting inspections at 18 airports a year, frequently encountering hangars packed with non-aviation items such as cars, boats and furniture, along with some hangar tenants operating businesses unrelated to aviation.

The primary focus of the new policy, which takes effect on July 1 next year, is to ensure the availability of hangars for aviation needs at airports funded by federal grants. However, the FAA acknowledges that there are periods of low hangar occupancy, during which airport sponsors can earn some income by renting out  hangars  for non-aviation activities.

Provided there is no immediate aviation use for the structure, sponsors must apply to the FAA to approve an interim non-aviation use of a hangar for a specified period. Non-aviation tenants may then be issued month-to-month leases until and unless there is an aviation need. Those leases must require the non-aeronautical tenant to vacate the hangar with 30 days’ notice when there is an aeronautical need for the structure. The FAA’s revenue use policy also requires the airport to identify and charge fair market value for the space while it is not used for aeronautical purposes.

As for storage of non-aviation items in hangars, the agency will defer to the local sponsor to decide specifically what is and is not allowed. The FAA will not consider a violation if the items do not impede the movement of aircraft in and out of the hangar orimpede access to other aeronautical contents of the hangar. It will be more inclinded to do so if the items in question are used to conduct a non-aeronautical business or municipal agency function. Aviation-related equipment such as towbars, glider towing equipment, workbenches and tools for the support of aircraft are considered appropriate aeronautical use.

The agency also changed its position on the use of a hangar for the construction of amateur-built aircraft, stating that this is an allowable use. An earlier draft would have allowed only final assembly of the aircraft. “AOPA believes that constructing an aircraft, not just the final assembly, is an aeronautical activity, which the update appropriately reflects,” said Jim Coon, AOPA’s senior vice president of government affairs.

During the comment process, AOPA and the National Air Transportation Association (NATA) lobbied the FAA to alter its stance on the effort. “NATA appreciates the FAA’s inclusion of our recommendations in the final policy and applauds the agency’s efforts to standardize and formalize its non-aeronautical use of airport hangars policy,” noted Thomas Hendricks, the organization’s president and CEO.

To eliminate stalled construction projects, however, the FAA suggested that airport sponsors institute some sort of progress benchmark process for homebuilders.