FAA Guidelines on Zoning in and Around Airports

SOURCE: Airport News - Online, FAA Central Region, Airports Division, October 1997

[WEB-EDITOR'S NOTE:This article concerns zoning restrictions the FAA places on airports that receive Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants.]

When an airport sponsor (owner) accepts an Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grant the sponsor agrees to the following condition (assurance) in accepting that grant.

Compatible land Use: It (the airport owner) will take appropriate action, including the adoption of zoning laws, to the extent reasonable, to restrict the use of land adjacent to or in the immediate vicinity of the airport to activities and purposes compatible with normal airport operations, including landing and takeoff of aircraft. In addition, if the project is for noise compatibility program implementation, it will not cause or permit any change in land use, within its jurisdiction, that will reduce its compatibility, with respect to the airport, of the noise compatibility measures upon which federal funds have been expended.
The objectives of zoning land on and around the airport is to assure that future uses of the land are compatible with airport operations to protect and preserve the airport and the public investment in the airport.

Zoning objectives are to prevent the following incompatible uses:

Proper zoning of land on and around the airport can prevent the need to acquire land in fee or easement to protect the airport. (As zoning law is individual to each state the state statutes must be referred to, to determine the extent of zoning authority.) However, typical state aeronautical statutes generally provide greater zoning latitude for airports. A legal determination of the zoning authority available in the jurisdiction of your airport may be necessary. Consult your attorney.

The first step in airport zoning is to develop a current Airport Layout Plan (ALP) for your airport. The ALP depicts land which the airport should own in fee as well as land for which easements may be necessary. The airspace drawings show obstructions to navigation and indicate areas that may need to be regulated to prevent or remove such obstructions. The Part 77 imaginary surfaces should be protected through height limitations on development both on and around the airport and especially in the approach areas and departure areas of the runways.We have developed an advisory circular for this purpose entitled "A Model Zoning Ordinance to Limit the Height of Objects Around Airports" (AC 150/5190-4A).

The ALP may be adopted by reference and used to limit the height of objects that would interfere with airport usage. Such adoption needs to be coordinated with local zoning authorities such as the city or county of jurisdiction. Close coordination with the county or city planning departments is essential for successful implementation of airport zoning.

Zoning solely to limit the height of objects around the airport will, however, be insufficient to prevent the construction of incompatible uses such as housing or uses which attract congregations of people in the approach areas. To control these types of uses, exclusionary zoning is necessary to prevent incompatible uses from occurring. We have also developed guidance on what uses are considered to be incompatible with airports. This guidance is contained in the advisory circular "Noise Control and Compatibility Planning for Airports" (AC 150/5020-1).

A comprehensive model zoning ordinance was developed in 1981 and revised in 1984 by the Oregon Department of Transportation entitled "Airport Compatibility Guidelines." This publication was developed as part of the state system plan and is comprehensive in addressing most zoning issues that an airport owner might face. Copies are available from the Oregon Aeronautics Division, 3040 25th St. S.E., Salem, Oregon 97310.

The airport owner has an obligation (due to the grant assurance) to request that the zoning authority enact zoning restricts sufficient to protect the airport. Where the zoning authority and the airport owner are the same it is reasonable to expect that the jurisdiction will enact the appropriate zoning. Good faith efforts to enact appropriate zoning should include a written request from the airport owner to the zoning authority.

Where the zoning authority refuses to enact appropriate zoning to protect the airport, the airport authority must be prepared to acquire the necessary control of land, especially in the approach areas, to ensure right of flight. Such acquisition is clearly more expensive than appropriate zoning. Failure to properly zone property creates the potential for conflicts with adjacent land uses that can not only cause expensive legal fees but also endanger the public and users of the airport. The FAA encourages appropriate zoning and planning to prevent encroachment by incompatible uses around the airport that can ultimately cause an airport to close.

Jan Monroe