Building Up To Knock Down Useable Runway

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A private airport in San Antonio is seeing the effective length of its runway being whittled away by housing developments the FAA is powerless to stop and the local city council seems to endorse. Like so many urban airports, Twin-Oaks Airport was on the outskirts when it was built in the 1950s. Now, it's an island in a sea of chock-a-block development and the final straw may take the shape of a modest single-story house poised for construction less than 400 feet from the end of the runway. Despite its low profile, the house will encroach 10 feet into the approach path, cutting the useable length of the strip to 1,885 feet, too short for many insurance companies. Airport owner Bill Fowler claims he's tried to buy up land surrounding the airport for decades but the development kept coming. The FAA says it lacks the power to stop construction, even though the house is a safety hazard, and the city just keeps approving building permits even though it knows the new houses are potentially in harm's way. Last year, a two-story home was built off the end of the runway, encroaching four feet into the approach path. About 20 pilots keep planes at Twin-Oaks and some openly wonder why anyone would build a house that close to the runway. The answer may lie in figures uncovered by the Express-News, which found the owners of the new house paid 12 percent less than market value for the home.