FAA Proposes $1.6 Million Fine For Small Town’s Big Airport


The FAA is throwing the book, and a proposed $1.56 million fine, at a small town whose airport is a lot bigger and more expensive to maintain than its traffic warrants. The agency announced via a news release that it was citing Anniston, Alabama, for a laundry list of violations from broken pavement to missing emergency fuel shutoff signs. The agency said it’s repeatedly warned Anniston (population about 21,000) to fix the problems and send out a NOTAM describing the shortcomings but the town council has so far failed to do so. Anniston city fathers told their local newspaper, the Anniston Star,  they’re working on it and have asked the FAA for a meeting. 

The airport’s 7,000 x 150-foot runway and terminal were built in 1966 when Anniston was the service center for Ft. McLellan, a major U.S. Army base. The Army left in the 1990s and so did the regional airlines that capitalized on the base. These days the airport sees mainly GA traffic with an average of 63 movements a day. Anniston is trying to get neighboring communities interested in a regional airport function but that has been slow going. In the meantime it’s fixing all the issues and will repave the runway this summer. Mayor Jack Draper told the Star the huge facility isn’t sustainable in the long term without some help. “The city of Anniston, we don’t have the money to keep up an airport like that,” he said.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. Surely there is something BAD wrong over at the FAA? A small town can’t afford to maintain the runway that was formerly — apparently — generating sufficient revenue to do so. So what does the mythical “they” do … fine them $1.6M. REALLY!! THIS one leaves me speechless. The FAA lets Mayor Daley off the hook for $33K. They let Santa Monica off the hook, free. And this tiny struggling City gets a $1.6M fine because they’re poor. Give us all a break, FAA. You’re absolute power has gone to your proverbial “head.” And your logic is fallacious.

    I should send a letter over to that City and just tell them to bring some big bulldozers over after midnight and take care of the problem. OH … make sure to put some big red X’s on the remains. You’ll be fine. SIGH!

    • It sounds like you feel that the FAA is forcing this town to keep the airport open. I doubt that is the case, and I doubt that the FAA would care much if the town did indeed close down this airport. I believe what they’re trying to say is that if they WANT to keep it open, then they’ll have to keep it in proper condition.

    • Larry,

      Before you get all up in the face of the FAA, did you happen to read the press release or the news article that were linked in this story?

      First of all, the FAA is proposing, they did not issue a fine. They are in essence now placing a stick where before there was possibly a carrot. did you also take a look at the list of issues that the FA cited about the airport. Let me help you:

      • Repair degraded runway and taxiway pavement, including humps, depressions and cracks that produced debris that could cause air-carrier pilots to lose control of their aircraft.
      • Properly maintain airport lighting and marking systems.
      • Keep pavement clear of mud, dirt, sand, debris and rubber deposits.
      • Ensure workers who drove on the airfield, were responsible for inspecting the fuel, and were responsible for the airport’s Wildlife Hazard Management plan completed mandatory training.
      • Review the airport emergency plan during the previous 12 months.
      • Maintain markers and signs that complied with applicable standards.
      • Maintain a reporting system to ensure the airport promptly corrects unsafe conditions identified during daily self-inspections.
      • Issue a Notice to Airmen for irregularities in the safety areas that could affect the safe operation of air carriers.
      • Properly locate and display emergency fuel shutoff signs and hazardous materials placards.

      Also, is not like this is out of the blue because the FAA had given them previous warnings about the conditions and that they needed to be fixed, but nothing had been done. However, it would seem after the FAA finally pushed hard the city of Anniston has begun to take the necessary steps:

      City officials say those fixes are either done, underway or on the way. Most significantly, they expect to begin work in early summer on resurfacing of the runway, a project that would resolve concerns about cracked asphalt. City officials plan to meet with the FAA in what amounts to an appeal of the fine

      it also seems like the city is now taking action for longer term solutions like getting in authority, coalition of groups to take ownership and not just have the city be responsible so at the end of the day, the FAA did their job which was to ensure that an airport that is stated as open for business is operating in a safe and proper manner. Sure, I guess the city could try to bulldoze it over but that certainly would have its own set of issues with the FAA. As a government agency the FAA is not perfect but I would rather believe that overall their interest is in trying to mean a safe aviation environment for all pilots and not act like petty tyrants you make them out to be.

    • To both Jim and Justin … go back to what I said. The FAA gave Chicago a $33K fine, Santa Monica nothing and wants to fine a small AL city $1.6M. I never said Anniston was 100% innocent … just that the proposed fine is way off base. At that rate, Chicago should have to have paid tens of millions. Sumpthin wrong here. And how much AIP funding did that City get to handle this work? And is this the same FAA that railroaded Bob Hoover? I’m well aware that many if not most worker bee individuals try to do a good job. But the people up near the top of the FAA — mostly the lawyers and managers — just don’t “get” it. I’ve been around aviation a very long time and I have a deep affiliation with an airport. Where isn’t important. Suffice it to say I know what it takes to properly run an airport. I don’t know if the State of Alabama has an aviation jurisdiction but — if they do — where are they? As I am often want to say … there’s more to this story…

    • “The FAA lets Mayor Daley off the hook for $33K.”

      The problem was Mayor Daley wasn’t on the hook for anything. The time period for any FAA money Chicago took for the airport had run out. At that point it was no longer a federally-funded airport and the Mayor could do with it as he pleased. The only stick the FAA had left was the measly fine for removing approaches without calling them first.

  2. As usual, the Big Brother Government can’t handle a situation….so what does it resort to ? Threats and extortion -page one of the “how to” Government Management Rulebook…
    Privatize it and let an “entity with concern” run it…I bet it can survive without intervention. If no one in the “town” understands the value of an airport and refuses to treat it as an asset what do you think will happen?

      • My suggestion to the town is to repave the northwest half of the runway, and let the rest rot. A 3500 footer is probably sufficient.

  3. If the government is concerned about an airport that is “too big” for the town due to the closure of the GOVERNMENT military base–perhaps the GOVERNMENT should re-open the base! (sarcasm).

    Actually, the government HAS been known to mitigate the costs to communities due to base closures.
    Since the airport was built in part to serve the military (and the families on that base) with airline service, that isn’t so far-fetched. Let one government agency (FAA) deal with another government agency (DOD).

    Rather than breaking the bank trying to maintain a “White Elephant”–I would consider “right sizing” the airport if it can’t be used as a regional airport. Rather than re-pave an unneeded 7000′ runway, (the major expense) only pave 5000′ with a 1000′ displaced threshold on each end–STILL long enough for aircraft visiting a town that size. IF needed in the future, the base for the 7000′ runway is still there.

  4. 1) from the FAA website… Encouraging and developing civil aeronautics, including new aviation technology. This doesn’t seem to be ‘encouraging’.
    2) with all the ‘infrastructure’ money being doled out… why doesn’t the FAA give them the money to fix it? If this were Pelosi or Schumer’s airport, they would have a gold plated control tower. The city needs an experienced airport manager who knows how to shake the money tree,

  5. In general I am against Big Government, as often demonstrated by the FAA. While I don’t think a fine will help anyone (other than the FAA) this does seem like the wrong size runway for a small town. Perhaps some help rather than a fine?

    Think of all the money the government is spending subsidizing/forcing us to drive electric cars as an example. Use some of that money to help keep this airfield open.

    Never happen.

    Does not fit the Green Agenda.

    GA is doomed.

    Even if we can survive most of us aging out of the process, or the insane amount of money it takes to keep ourselves and our airplanes and our airports operating, sooner or later the Eco-mentalists will turn off our fuel supply. Starting with 100LL but you KNOW they would love to kill Mogas as well.

    In another generation they will succeed.

  6. The government signed off on the “need” for a 7000′ runway and all of the infrastructure to support airline traffic serving the military base–THEN CLOSED THE BASE–and NOW, want to BURDEN THE STRICKEN COMMUNITY WITH MAINTAINING MORE AIRPORT THAN THEY NEED!

    The government obviously wanted the availability of the airport for the base–and now wants to punish the community that paid its share based on what the government wanted at the time. (shakes head).


  7. From first-hand experience I can vouch for the fact that maintaining any airport other than a dirt strip in a field with no-nothing attached is neither cheap nor effortless. Our little open to the public 3600′ asphalt runway-plus-taxiways airport is privately owned by, basically, 63 private individuals. For those uninitiated in such things, “privately owned” = “no/zip/zero public dollars”. When the check is written for that $170,000 minor seal-coat and re-striping, those bucks didn’t fall from the sky, they came right out of the pockets of working stiffs and a few retirees. And for our public-use visitors, you’re welcome, no charge.

    I note in the comments some still appear to harbor the fantasy that GA airports “make money”. Perhaps in a tiny handful of special cases they do, but mostly they are a constant drain on their public or private owners.

    In the case of Anniston’s KANB, they would presumably get a little rent/lease money from the small FBO and maybe some hangar rent. I would bet that’s probably just enough to pay the utilities, some part-time help and maybe an occasional small repair of runway lights, ILS, etc. Major bills like runway work are going to come directly from the city’s coffers plus FAA matching funds, and for a quasi-rural low income area town of 21,000 that lost their major source of “outside” revenue some years back, I’m not surprised they feel they are between a rock and a hard place trying to keep up an airport that they inherited when the feds and their money pulled out.

  8. Suspicious timing that this type of FAA overreach comes shortly after the Biden administration takes office. Obviously new orders have come in from above at the FAA. Be interesting to see what other changes of direction we’ll see from the feds under this new administration.

    • Just look at who’s now running DOT. Another know nothing appointee. I may even long for the days of Mikey!
      WHAT’s on second … Put yo’ seatbelts on, boys !!

  9. What a horribly written article. The proposed fine is not because their airport is too big. They are being told to maintain their airport so it will be safe for users to use.

    • The underlying motivation for the proposed fine is simply to force the town to face up to the fact they must somehow deal with the obligation to maintain the airport they assumed as a result of receiving federal funding. In other words, the choice is you pay, or else you pay. I predict it’s going to be a harsh “come to Jesus” process for them, not the least because unlike tony Santa Monica, they don’t have the $$ and powerful allies it takes to fight the FAA to a standstill.