Today, we are exploring the effects of residential through-the-fence agreements at the nation's public airports. We are seeking a balance between the interests of homeowners who own and operate aircraft, and the interests of the government and the public at large, who have invested substantial sums to develop the airports involved.
Residential through-the-fence agreements are agreements between the State and local governments that own and operate local airports, on the one hand, and people who own land adjacent to airports, on the other. The agreements exist for a unique purpose: they allow homeowners to park their personal aircraft at their homes, and taxi those aircraft to and from airport runways and taxiways at their leisure. Where others might park a car, these homeowners park an airplane, and they enjoy the freedom to go flying at their convenience.
I commend these homeowners for their interest in promoting general aviation
and their vigilance in watching over their local airports. I appreciate their investment in a lifestyle that, when pursued responsibly, allows them to support their local airports and general aviation as a whole. The majority of homeowners with the privilege of through-the-fence access exercise that privilege with a remarkable sense of civic virtue.
At the same time, I recognize the challenges for the Federal Aviation
Administration (FAA), local airports, and even homeowners themselves that have materialized as the result of through-the-fence agreements. I am concerned that, in certain situations, through-the-fence agreements may restrain airport development; prevent airports from expanding or making critical safety improvements; and even result in access-holders' improper use of airport property for non-aviation purposes.
Since October of 2009, the FAA has approved more than $2.8 billion in
Federal grants for local airports to invest in needed infrastructure. By law, these grants are made to create a national, integrated system of public-use airports. Each of the Federally-funded airports functions as an indispensible part of that system. But when through-the-fence agreements restrain airport development, or create safety issues that limit the ability of pilots to use an airport, the return on Federal investment in that airport is diminished. I am concerned that through-the-fence access, in some cases, may be doing just that.
Last year, the FAA published a policy discouraging residential through-thefence agreements. The FAA has received a large number of comments on that policy. Many of those who commented took a rather dim view of the FAA's decision to discourage these agreements. I understand that some homeowners were uncertain about the future of through-the-fence access after publication of the FAA's policy.
On September 9 of this year, the FAA published proposed revisions to its
policy that take into account some of the criticisms of the prior policy. I am pleased to note that, under the new FAA's proposal, homeowners will be able to continue to enjoy through-the-access when their local airports comply with reasonable requirements to ensure all points of airport access are accounted for and mapped. Of course, homeowners and airport sponsors must work to ensure that, going forward, through-the-fence access does not create the safety and legal issues that the FAA has documented in the past. The FAA does not propose to prohibit, outright, through the- fence access to all airports, public and private. Rather, in the end, airport sponsors are free to judge whether the benefits of creating new through-the-fence access would bring opportunities and benefits that outweigh the continued receipt of
Federal investment. The FAA's proposal to preclude new through-the-fence access does not apply to airports that do not receive Airport Improvement Program grants.
I look forward to hearing more from Kate Lang, Acting Associate
Administrator in the FAA's Office of Airports, on what the proposed policy means for homeowners and for airports. I also look forward to hearing from our other witnesses with unique expertise and knowledge of the issues presented by through the-fence agreements.
We will vigorously explore whether the FAA's new policy serves the public
interest and protects Federal investment in the nation's airport system. I am
optimistic that all stakeholders will have the opportunity to work together in a spirit of respect and cooperation to find common ground and to ensure that the policy that emerges from the FAA's September 9 proposal reflects both the nation's interest in maintaining a healthy, functioning airport system and homeowners' interest in preserving investments that mean a great deal to them and to their local communities.
We must remain committed to ensuring that Federal investment in airports
produces the returns and benefits we expect from such significant public investment. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses.