WASHINGTON — Agreements allowing private plane owners with “hangar homes” adjacent to airports to taxi directly from their property onto airport tarmacs risk turning government investments into private perks, a Federal Aviation Administration official said Wednesday.
“The fundamental distinctions between public use airports ... and private airports have begun to blur,” Catherine Lang, the FAA’s associate administrator for airports, told a hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
FAA officials want to cut off federal aid to public airports that sign new so-called “through-the-fence” agreements with real estate developers and homeowners.
The popularity of hangar homes on property adjacent to small public airports is growing. And so is concern among federal officials that such arrangements can endanger safety and limit the ability of airports to expand and could be a misuse of government money.
FAA officials have said they have no problem with private airparks that have similar access agreements with homeowners because those airparks don’t receive federal dollars. But publicly owned airports usually rely on the $3.5 billion in grants the FAA makes annually to airports to help pay for new runways, safety equipment and other improvements.
Earlier this month, the FAA updated a policy proposal that grants be cut off to public airports that enter into new agreements. The agency is also looking at whether the existing agreements with homeowners and developers at 72 public airports conflict with the promises the airports made when they accepted government money.
Even if such arrangements are working today, that doesn’t mean they’ll continue to work years or decades from now, Lang said. Experience has shown that close proximity of homes to an airport is often an insurmountable obstacle to airport expansion, she said.
The proposal has drawn fire from homeowners, the Experimental Aircraft Association and their congressional supporters who say the problems have been overblown. Access fees from such arrangements, they say, help airports raise money. Having homeowners nearby also adds an extra layer of security, especially at night when airports are closed, they say.
The committee is considering a bill by Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., to allow airports to continue to enter into new through-the-fence agreements.
“It should be up to the local community and municipality to make that decision,” Graves said. “If they don’t like them, they don’t have to have them.”