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An Airport Christmas (Valley) Story

The airfield at the wonderfully named Christmas Valley, Oregon, is not a facility one would think would be in the center of a national aviation debate. The airport has only five taxiways leading to a single airstrip, primarily used by homeowners with their private aircraft hangared adjacent to their houses.

EAA came to the aid of those aviators, however, when their airport access was threatened by a new FAA policy announced through a Compliance Guidance Letter issued on September 30, 2009. The letter outlined a policy that would eliminate through-the-fence (TTF) operations at publicly owned or financed airports. TTF operations, prior to the letter’s date, were defined as those where the owner of a public airport permits access to the public landing area by residential homeowners with aircraft based on land adjacent to the airport and/or commercial operators offering an aeronautical activity. However, the new policy clearly stated, “Under no circumstances is the FAA to support any ‘through-the-fence’ agreement associated with residential use…”

This policy - which was forwarded to EAA and other associations for comment in mid-October, two weeks after its issuance - would severely restrict private individuals, businesses, and emergency services from direct access to airports adjacent to their property. EAA immediately stepped in to defend aviation access for airports where TTF operations provide economic benefits and more to both a community and an aviation facility.

Meanwhile, the residents at Christmas Valley found themselves in a quandary. The FAA’s new policy would cut off access from the airfield where they had specifically purchased homes because of the airport access. EAA members at that airport contacted staff headquarters in Oshkosh to get help sort out their options.

In early October, EAA wrote to the FAA stating how the new policy would effectively shut out Christmas Valley residents, the area’s primary airport users, which could eventually lead to the airport’s closure. This is just one example of hundreds of similar situations throughout the nation that shows how restricting TTF access could threaten an airport’s future.

EAA staff asked members to join them in reviewing the FAA’s document and to post their comments at Oshkosh365. These comments will be considered when EAA submits its official response, emphasizing a long-standing policy that promises to consider all local factors when determining whether to allow TTF operations at airports.

For example, the Oshkosh365 online network showcases a home video produced by a couple in nearby Creswell, Oregon, whose home adjacent to Hobby Field includes a hangar for their aircraft. The video exemplifies the everyday aviators who use airport access as most of us use driveways for our cars and trucks.

EAA’s efforts have already produced at least one piece of good news. On November 19, EAA received a letter from the FAA’s acting associate administrator for airports, Catherine Lang, stating the agency would work with local authorities at Christmas Valley to better reflect its public purpose. Currently, previous TTF residential operations can remain, preserving homeowner access at the field.

But this issue is far from settled nationwide. EAA staff and members will continue to work toward allowing airport access nationwide wherever it reasonably makes sense to develop aviation facilities. Your input is welcome as part of these efforts to promote aviation participation and to support the flying community.

EAA RadioListen to our reports about Christmas Valley Airport and other battles taking place in Driggs and Sandpoint, Idaho:

No Christmas in the Valley

TTF Update:  Sandpoint and Driggs, Idaho

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