Guest Blog: EAA on Hangar Policy
Thanks to AVWeb for supplying the opportunity for EAA's guest blog posting about the new FAA hangar-use policy. Anytime we can work together to bring more knowledge and information to aviators, the better it is for all of us.
AVweb's "Hangar Policy Lunacy" editorial last Friday makes the point exactly right: None of us are interested in making airport hangars a cut-rate EZ-Stor facility, with boats, motorhomes, snowmobiles, and all sorts of other toys taking up space intended for aircraft and legitimate aviation uses. Those kinds of non-aeronautical uses eventually work against airports and hurt their long-term preservation for their intended aviation use. There needs to be a clear policy to give guidance to airport managers and users to what is allowed and what isn't at airports that receive FAA federal grant funding.
(One note: If you're at a privately owned airport, residential airpark, or the like, congratulations! None of this applies to you, unless your airport owner decides to follow the same policy as the FAA. That's an issue for your own facility.)
Many people thought that FAA already had a comprehensive airport hangar-use policy at facilities that receive FAA airport funding. Nope. FAA's guidance and policy was a puzzle-piece interpretation system of letters, court cases, and other singular items from individual cases through the years. Local airport managers took those items and formulated their own local policies based on those findings. The agency finally began developing a hangar-use policy several years ago, but did not release a draft until July 22.
We had little idea what would be in that final draft until we opened the box that day, although we did spend quite a bit of time encouraging the FAA to include particular elements. In retrospect, we would have loved to have a week or two to fully analyze the policy draft after its release, and compile full briefing sheets and talking points, but there was that little flying thing in Oshkosh that was about to start. (To be honest, most of our advocacy attention for Oshkosh was focused on the aeromedical certification reform effort, but that's another story.)
In an initial reading of the policy, however, there were some things that immediately stood out:
1) Homebuilding was named as a "protected aeronautical activity." That had never occurred before. As recently as 2012, the FAA said homebuilding was not a protected activity at a local airport. We know there have been hundreds, if not thousands, of homebuilt projects created in local airport hangars over the years. All of them have taken place without protection and mostly with tacit OKs or "don't ask/don't tell" positions from local airport managers.
2) The policy draft allows non-aeronautical items in hangars that do not distract from the primary aeronautical use. That means your hangar refrigerator would be OK, as well as those second-hand lawn chairs that you bring out to watch everybody else's landings. That was not the case previously.
For those reasons, we felt the initial policy draft was a win. When individual aviators and hangar tenants have freedoms and protections where none existed before, it's a step forward. We still feel that way.
Here's where AVWeb's editorial also makes a great point: Homebuilding in all its forms should be protected at the local airport. It seems that would be a slam-dunk, no-brainer inclusion. But as we told AVWeb's editors last week, government agencies often do not work that way. Every policy or rule goes through multiple channels. Each review stop provides additional viewpoints, suggestions, and possible objections. Thus, something that seems to an outside observer to be simple becomes much more complex. Getting even the most fundamental item through unscathed can be considered a victory (Again, see aeromedical certification reform as a prime example.)
So, here's where we are: This draft has made some very significant steps in the right direction. Now, through the public comment period, there's the opportunity for all of us to do more. EAA is focusing on changing the language of allowing "final assembly" of amateur-built aircraft to simply "active assembly" or "construction" of an aircraft. That in itself would clarify many of the objections we've heard.
Homebuilders must also share responsibility in making this work. For instance, at what point does a homebuilt project become inactive, especially if there are aircraft owners on a waiting list for hangar space at an airport? If I fly an aircraft and am using outdoor tiedowns while a hangar is filled with a half-done project sitting idle for five or 10 years, do I have a right to complain?
Another good point from the AVWeb editorial: Certain activities still need very close monitoring or compliance with local codes and ordinances. Having the freedom to construct an airplane does not give me the right to burn down or contaminate my neighbor's hangar.
FAA's airport grant assurances are a two-edged sword: These federal grants to local airports are among the major protections that often are the only thing that keeps local governments from unilaterally closing a local airport on a political whim. However, as with any grant supplier, public or private, the money can come with rules attached. We can't have one without the other.
Here's what you can do to help the effort, right now: We have until September 5 to comment to the policy. EAA's view is that the policy should not be thrown out and entirely rewritten, because that would take us back to the era of loose and varying interpretations based on individual cases. Instead, focus on the elements that need further protection and clarification –– for EAA, that's going to be protection for all elements of homebuilding.
We're just a couple of weeks removed from aviation's annual family reunion at Oshkosh, we see the art of the possible when people are allowed the freedom to build and innovate. That's something that should be part of the culture at local airports nationwide, and something that EAA fully supports as an organization.