The Controversy Over “Through-the-Fence” At 75 Airports Across The Country


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The Controversy Over “Through-the-Fence” At 75 Airports Across The Country

Mike Mitchell

September 24, 2010 — During the 70’s and 80’s it became popular for aircraft owners to purchase homes (hanger Homes) adjacent to airports that would allow the homeowner the convenience to walk out of his or her home, jump into their aircraft, taxi to the airport and take off. This was referred to as “Through The Fence” (TTF) access, and although the airport had a perimeter fence in most cases there was no fence between the home owner and the airport.

After September 11th the federal government sought new policies for shoring up our airports from would be terrorist attacks. As a result of this measure, on September 30, 2009, the Department of Transportations (DOT) released its FAA Airport Compliance Manual, Order 5190.6b which prohibited “through the fence” access at federally funded airports. At present, there are 75 airports in the continental U.S. where residential through-the-fence access is known to exist.


When DOT’s Order 5190.6b went into affect the FAA began informing aircraft owners of the new regulation. Aircraft owners were informed that under no circumstances would “through-the-fence” agreements associated with residential use be allowed. This sparked outrage from home owners who had “Through-the-Fence” land right agreements as well a number of aircraft and pilot associations. These homeowners and associations such as AOPA expressed their concerns to DOT, FAA and Congress. One of the concerns raised, was that the aviation community was not informed of a proposed change nor allowed to offer any input.

On March 11, 2010, the “Community Airport Access and Protection Act of 2010” was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa) and Sam Graves (R-Mo.) that would prevent the FAA from taking enforcement action on “through the fence” access and these airports would not be in violation of its grant assurances because of such access agreements. A similar bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate by James Inhofe (R-Okla.)

On September 9, 2010, FAA issued a proposed Rule Change regarding access to airports from residential property, “Through-the-Fence” access. The policy would subject existing TTF agreements to closer oversight and prohibit federally funded airports from entering into new RTTF agreements. The proposed rule change is as follows;


ACTION: Notice of proposed policy; notice of proposed amendment to sponsor grant assurance 5; and request for public comment. This action proposes to amend and clarify FAA policy concerning through-the-fence access to a federally obligated airport from an adjacent or nearby property, when that property is used as a residence and permits continuation of existing access subject to certain standards.

This action also proposes to modify sponsor grant assurance, Preserving Rights and Powers, to prohibit new residential through-the-fence access to a federally obligated airport. Current FAA policy discourages through-the-fence access to a federally obligated airport from an off airport residence.

Owners of properties used both as a residence and for the storage of personal aircraft, sometimes called ‘‘hangar homes,’’ have urged the agency to permit an exception to through-the-fence policy for residents who own aircraft. The FAA proposes to modify Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grant assurance, Preserving Rights and Powers, to clarify that airport sponsors are prohibited from permitting new through-the-fence access from residential properties.

Pursuant to applicable law, the Secretary of Transportation is required to provide notice in the Federal Register and an opportunity for the public to comment upon proposals to modify or add new AIP assurances. The agency recognizes that there are airports at which residential through-the-fence access already exists.

The FAA will not consider sponsors of these airports to be in violation of current grant assurances if the airport sponsor meets certain standards for control of airport operations and development; self-sustaining and nondiscriminatory airport rates; and compatible land use. At present, there are 75 airports in the continental U.S. where residential through-the-fence access is known to exist.

This represents less than 3 percent of the 3,300 airports listed in the FAA’s National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS) and eligible for Federal investment. While the vast majority of airport sponsors do not have residential through-the-fence access, due to the increasing number of requests to establish such access, particularly at general aviation airports, the agency has revisited the policy in order to establish clear guidance for the future. Send your comments on or before October 25, 2010. The FAA will consider comments received on the Proposed Policy and the proposed grant assurance modification.

The National Air Transportation Association (NATA) President James K. Coyne testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure at a hearing regarding Residential Through-the-Fence (RTTF) Agreements at Public Airports.

In his testimony, Coyne stated, “NATA agrees with the FAA that the primary issue for not allowing new RTTF agreements is to ensure the future utility of federally funded airports. Investments in airports, made through the Airport Improvement Program or through federal surplus property grants, are intended to enhance the flexibility of airports to meet the future needs, in both capacity and type of operations, of the National Airspace System.

“Due to the intrinsic nature of residential properties, as compared to commercial properties, RTTF agreements limit the flexibility of airport sponsors to expand according to the needs of the community. NATA believes that the FAA has made an overwhelming case for prohibiting new RTTF agreements and supports its proposal.”

Aviation Programs Manager for the Georgia Department of Transportation Carol Comer also agreed with the FAA. “In the state of Georgia, there are no TTF agreements at any public-use airport,” explained Comer.

“The state educates airport sponsors that RTTF agreements are inconsistent with the airport's federal obligation to ensure compatible land use adjacent to the airport and reminds the sponsor that RTTF agreements may result in not being able to receive any federal funding assistance due to non-compliance with the airport's federal grant assurances.”

“Airport businesses, the majority of them small businesses, invest billions of dollars in creating on-airport service facilities that provide for the needs of the flying public,” Coyne stated. “Airport businesses are controlled by stringent oversight by the airport sponsor to ensure their services support the needs of the airport and the public. RTTF agreements reduce the future purpose of the airport, which undermines the investment made by the federal government and airport businesses.”

Coyne concluded, “NATA believes that the FAA has proposed a policy that well serves the long-term interests of public-use airports, airport businesses and the public. Any attempt to override that policy by statute could result in unintended consequences that damage the future of the airport as well as the future of all grant assurances.”

Read Testimony of Catherine M. Lang, Acting Associate Administrator for airports, federal aviation administration, before the house of representatives, committee on transportation and infrastructure, on residential through-the-fence agreements at public airports on 9/22/2010


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