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Holes in the Fence

For most pilots, through-the-fence issues may not be something that concerns them on a day-to-day basis. But it should. Even if you, your flying club, or your company does not rely on a special access agreement with your local airport from your hangar to its runways, the new FAA policy that severely limits such agreements will restrict aviation participation.

Let’s back up: A through-the-fence (TTF) agreement is a local contract or arrangement that allows aircraft parked outside an airport’s property borders to taxi to its runways. Some examples of such activity include residential airparks adjacent to airports, or corporate flight department facilities next to runways, or a local airport that perhaps never purchased a particular hangar and adjacent land when the airport expanded.

The FAA has never encouraged TTF agreements, instead relying on local determination whether that arrangement was an economic benefit to the airport or was an operational concern for local aviators. Last fall, the FAA released a policy memo—not a proposed rule—that would severely limit any TTF operations, regardless of economic or operational considerations. As mentioned in EAA Sport Aviation last month, the policy would affect all TTF operations at publicly owned or financed airports, but doesn’t allow the opportunity for the public to comment or suggest other solutions.

In late December, EAA made an official response to FAA’s “one size fits all” policy, after failing to find any specific residential TTF operation that would cause such a policy to be adopted. There were four specific points to EAA’s response in opposition to the new policy:

    1) The success of prior FAA/public TTF agreements.
    2) The U.S. Code, in which the policy would be stated, does not prohibit TTF operations.
    3) The FAA’s own grant guidelines mandate that each airport work to be economically self-sufficient.
    4) A ban on TTF agreements would lower property values, in effect reducing residential property values without cause.

EAA recommended that the FAA suspend the new TTF policy and develop one that provides the flexibility to allow adjacent residential operations and on-airport residential access based on specific airport and general aviation aircraft needs.

This only makes sense. Throughout the nation, student pilot starts are down and airports aren’t building new hangars to meet demand, while at the same time locally funded airports are seeking more ways to increase revenue and, in some cases, remain open. While adjacent TTF operations are not the overall solution to dwindling aviation activity, they offer another way for aviators to have the access they need and a method for local airports to increase revenue.

EAA also offered to work with the FAA to develop a practical standard that would allow opportunities for residential TTF operations, maintain the security needs of today’s airports, and establish a way for local airports to welcome more activity and revenue.

Even if you personally might not be affected by a future ban on TTF operations, your local airport might be. Or the airport where you prefer to land on your favorite cross-country trip might be affected. Without more participation, local airports will have an increasingly difficult time maintaining services or even remaining open. More participation means better facilities to serve the flying community, and more opportunities for all of us. And that’s why we should all care about TTF operations.

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