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Physical and Tangible Issues

AOPA is bringing a regional fly-in and Barnstormers Party to the Bremerton National Airport in western Washington Aug. 19 and 20, 2016. Photo by David Tulis.

Public-use community airports, whether publicly or privately owned, can face a number of challenges. Some involve physical and tangible issues—noise complaints, residential encroachment, and obstructions—while others are related to issues of perception. Let’s look first at the physical and tangible challenges your airport might face, along with the many ASN resources available to help address and resolve these issues.

Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.—Confucius

Mighty Roar

Few sounds get a pilot’s heart pounding quite like the roar of an airplane on takeoff. Unfortunately, that same sound can get local residents up in arms. Although aircraft are typically no louder than other sources of noise in a community, the sound is often considered more obnoxious.

  • Noise complaints—The problem of aircraft noise is compounded at airfields with intense flight-training operations. Pattern work, touch-and-go landings, and repeated approaches may be perceived as a nuisance. Complaints about aircraft noise can result in restrictions on airport operations or even lead to calls for airport closure.
  • Taking responsibility—The issue of aircraft noise should be addressed through a concerted effort by all pilots using a given airport. Simply saying “the airport was here first” won’t sit well with local residents and lawmakers. It’s important for pilots to demonstrate sensitivity to noise concerns and express a willingness to voluntarily address the problem.

Tip: Aircraft noise can be reduced in a variety of ways, from flying modified traffic patterns to avoiding low, dragged-in approaches. Determine where the noise-sensitive areas are around your airport, develop a voluntary plan to avoid those areas (if feasible), and share this plan with based pilots, transient pilots, local residents, and elected officials.

Suburban Sprawl

Photography of a Cessna 182 Skylane doing pattern work at Essex Skypark with fall colors.Essex Skypark Airport (W48)Baltimore MD USAClosely related to noise complaints are the issues of incompatible land use and residential encroachment. As the demand for housing increases in a community, a once idyllic country airport may quickly find itself surrounded by residential subdivisions.

Encroachment issues can be addressed by working with the local planning office to develop workable solutions for land use.

Political Pressure

Encroachment can be an airport’s death warrant. In an effort to expand the tax base and appease voters, local politicians could turn their backs on the airfield and side with developers and residents seeking to close the facility.

Encroachment and Zoning

Encroachment issues can be addressed by working with the local planning office to develop workable solutions for land use. These solutions might include:

  • Zoning regulations and/or the adoption of an airport master plan that addresses future development on and around the airport.
  • If state guidelines on land use and airport compatibility exist, work with the airport sponsor to bring local zoning into compliance.

Airport Improvement Program

The FAA provides more than $3 billion annually in the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) to fund major infrastructure projects at airports across America. Airports that receive money through the FAA’s AIP accept certain grant assurances or obligations. Compatible land-use issues are addressed in the contract between the federal government and the airport sponsor. Airport owners, also known as "sponsors," are asked to ensure through zoning or other measures, that nearby development is compatible with airport operations.


The National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS) is a federal plan that identifies more than 3,300 airports that are significant to national air transportation and are eligible to receive federal grants under the Airport Improvement Program. The plan also includes estimates of the amount of AIP money needed to fund infrastructure development projects that will bring these airports up to current design standards and add capacity at congested airports.

When an airport accepts federal funds from the FAA Airport Improvement Program (AIP), the airport sponsor must agree to certain obligations, such as proper maintenance of the airport and keeping the airport open and operating for public use for a specified time (usually 20 years) after the grant is awarded. The FAA can withhold funds or require repayment of funds if the grant assurances are not met. ASN volunteers and airport support groups should monitor these obligations and alert AOPA if there’s a problem with the airport sponsor abiding by grant assurances.

Compliance Issues

The FAA's Airport Compliance Program administers the rights obtained by airport users and the public at large in exchange for federal assistance to airports in the form of grants or land. Having accepted the federal assistance, the airport owner (sponsor), agrees to live up to a series of obligations, also called "assurances," laid out in the contract it signed with the federal government.

Note: When the FAA determines that the airport sponsor has failed to meet its obligations, an airport compliance issue arises. Compliance disputes are resolved through a set of procedures that include both informal and formal components.

Towers and Obstructions

Development of land near an airport sometimes includes tall buildings, towers, or wind turbines, which can be a hazard to landing and departing aircraft. This can lead to higher minimum descent altitudes or longer displaced runway thresholds, negatively impacting operations at the airport.

  • Addressing towering hazards—The FAA has standards governing when an obstruction might constitute a hazard to aircraft. Although the agency lacks enforcement authority, its findings can affect a builder’s ability to get necessary permits or liability insurance.

Obstruction Evaluation

Federal aviation regulations require that persons wishing to construct a tall structure must notify the FAA if the structure exceeds the notice criteria outlined in FAR 77.13(a), but the agency has no enforcement jurisdiction. The FAA's only authority is to study the request and make a determination as to whether it presents a negative impact to the safe and efficient use of the airspace. That said, construction rarely proceeds if the FAA determines that the obstruction presents a hazard to air navigation.

The airport owner (sponsor), agrees to live up to a series of obligations, also called ‘assurances,’ laid out in the contract it signed with the federal government.