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House Committee Open to Compromise on Future of Residential TTF Agreements

September 22, 2010 —  Members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure appeared receptive to EAA's proposed compromise regarding the future of residential through the fence (TTF) agreements on public-use airports at a hearing Wednesday, September 22. Residential TTF agreements are made between an airport sponsor (city, county, or municipality) and an individual who owns land adjacent to an airport, providing the landowner and his/her aircraft access to the airport. Those opposing TTF agreements, including the FAA, claim they create incompatible land use near airports that can constrain future airport development.

Last year in a proposed revision to the FAA Airport Compliance Manual, the FAA sought to eliminate all residential TTF agreements, prompting many objections from the aviation community, including EAA and other organizations. FAA recently revised the proposed manual to allow current agreements to stand pending review while barring future ones.

Catherine M. Lang, FAA acting Associate Administrator of Airports, while generally opposed to TTF agreements, testified that she was very interested in getting the TTF policy right for the long-term, and sought further input from associations, including EAA and AOPA, regarding changes to the proposed policy.

“The overall committee comments centered on developing a policy that takes permits through-the-fence agreements while into account the uniqueness of each general aviation airport and the economic, safety, and security issues affecting each facility,” said Randy Hansen, EAA government relations director. “Ms. Lang acknowledged this uniqueness, and expressed interest in getting the adjacent residential Through-the-Fence policy right for the long-term.”

In March this year, EAA formed a residential TTF working group that developed and submitted to the FAA recommended standards to address the unique residential TTF access issues facing airports. Many of these same standards were adopted in the FAA proposed policy for existing TTF agreements but were not extended to future agreements.

“EAA will now review the standards proposed in the FAA’s draft policy and the comments made during this committee hearing with the intent of developing a national standard for new and existing adjacent residential TTF access agreements,” Hansen said. "It is important that we balance the interests of private landowners desiring access to the airport with the need for appropriate safety and security standards while also maintaining the utility of the airport for the long term." EAA will submit its suggestions to the FAA by October 25, 2010.

It was interesting to note that during the Wednesday hearing, two state airport officials testified with opposite viewpoints on the issue. Mitch Swecker, State Airports Manager, Oregon Department of Aviation, told the committee that residential TTF agreements are a valuable contributor to the aviation community there.

“In Oregon, we have seen firsthand that residential Through the Fence is not, contrary to FAA draft policies, inherently wrong,” Swecker said. “The state of Oregon believes that when done wisely, it can be a tremendous asset to an airport. We are fortunate to have a number of examples of Through the Fence airports including Independence State Airport and Creswell Airport (Hobby Field) which could be used as models of how it can be done right.”

Conversely, Carol L. Comer, aviation programs manager for the Georgia Department of Transportation, said her state has chosen not to enter into any TTF agreements at federally funded airports. Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.), ranking committee member, in his opening statement noted that “It is important that the committee hear from all sides of this issue to gain a better understanding of what residential through-the-fence agreements are, who is impacted, what issues are related to the use of such agreements, and what affect the FAA’s proposed guidance will have on private property rights, and on small airports and communities.”

The issue impacts a very small universe of U.S. public general aviation airports – less than three percent of all federally funded public airports in the country. “But for those airports and landowners impacted by this change in FAA policy, this is a very important property rights and aviation issue,” Petri added. He went on to say that airport authorities should be able to enter into TTF agreements when they otherwise meet the grant assurances for federal funding.

Sam Graves (R-Mo.), a staunch supporter of GA who called for the hearing, favors continuing residential TTF agreements. “Earlier this year, I introduced legislation (H.R. 4815) in hopes of providing more uniformity and developing a framework for all agreements,” he said. “I’ll be the first to admit my bill isn’t perfect, and in fact I have made a few changes post-introduction, but we shouldn’t take the easy way out and ban residential TTF agreements altogether. With proper planning and coordination among all stakeholders, reasonable solutions are achievable.”

Dr. Brent Blue, founder of ThroughTheFence.org who also testified Wednesday, commented after the hearing. “It was heartening to see the support from Chairman (James) Oberstar (D-Minn.) as to why local airports could not determine who their best neighbors are,” he said. “Chairman Oberstar made it very clear that the FAA cannot just go ‘willy nilly’ and ban this thing without having a very good reason, and I think they (FAA) realize at this point that they do not have a very good reason.”

Oberstar also said he would like to meet with the FAA before they release the final policy.

“The FAA has yet to prove that residential Through the Fence agreements hamper the future of GA airports” Blue continued. “What we all know, and what the FAA has actually acknowledged, is that through the fence agreements help airports economically, and they help the vitality of an airport.”
View an archived version of the September 22 hearing here.

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