Hangar Policy Lunacy

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Sometimes, I'm glad our readers are paying attention because I'm not sure we always are. By "we," I mean the editorial we; the crack, watchdog aviation press. Specifically, I'm referring to the FAA's hangar policy toward homebuilding that escaped the Level 4 bio containment last week and never should have.

It set the AVweb (and KITPLANES) mailboxes alight for a couple of days. During AirVenture, we broke the story that the FAA's new airport use policy considers homebuilding to be a "non-aeronautical activity." Absurd on its face, right? Well, yes, but the policy statement still made it alive out of 800 Independence. EAA published this somewhat obscure story on the policy just ahead of AirVenture. Although the policy clearly lists building airplanes as a non-aviation activity, the story wasn't clear on that point. A sharp-eyed AVweb reader, alerted by his airport manager, contacted us and we chased it down.

When we queried EAA, the association said it considered the new policy a major win. Huh? The back story—still not clear from EAA's initial story—is that the victory part is because the FAA agreed to add "final, active assembly" of an aircraft to the hangar policy. Before that, homebuilders weren't mentioned at all and thus had no protection. Still, I wouldn't call the current policy as written an improvement, since the policy clearly still disallows homebuilding as an aeronautical use. That gives airports pre-disposed against amateur builders a powerful lever to restrict or eject them from hangars. (But only at airports where FAA funds are expended.)

EAA's Sean Elliott, who handles government affairs for the association, acknowledges the point. In a conference call Wednesday, he said EAA wants to petition the FAA to remove the homebuilt restriction entirely and/or make building an airplane an approved listed aeronautical use. When we asked why this wasn't done in the first place, Elliott said it's one step at a time with the FAA. I get that. But I also wonder why we feel it's our duty to jolly the FAA staff along on issues that should be no-brainers, and this is certainly one. 

You really have to wonder how educated people in government agencies allow such absurdities to reach street level. The underlying goal here is to prevent airports that receive FAA funding—so-called obligated airports—from becoming just more E-Z-Storage sites. You know how it works. At some airports, hangars don't have airplanes, but they do have boats, cars, gas grills, furniture, RVs, motorcycles and so on. The policy is intended to curb that and I think I'm on firm ground in saying most aircraft owners and pilots would back that idea. But in typical government fashion, the one-size-fits-all approach banned homebuilding through a twist of logic that eludes me.

But here's what interesting. The policy also says the FAA will work with airports that have insufficient aviation demand to permit short-term non-aeronautical use of hangars. In other words, RVs and gas grills. In additional other words, the FAA showed some admirable flexibility. Somehow, amateur-built airplanes escaped this largesse, but we are right to ask … no, demand it. I have to imagine that someone in the agency would have raised this issue before the policy got out. Maybe several someones. But somehow, it still reached the final stage as a stated policy. There's just no explaining it. I would have also wished that EAA had alerted it members in plain language of what it was up to. This story warranted some moral support from the members and EAA would have been right to seek it.

Here's hoping to fix it. There's no logical reason—even in the extreme—that owners building airplanes shouldn't do this activity in airport hangars on airports supported by FAA dollars, at least in principle. Many builders fabricate at home and assemble at the airport, but some have no choice but to do it all in an airport hangar. Homebuilders are a vibrant part of the aviation economy and they deserve just as much support as the Citation owner across the ramp. The FAA airport guys need to get out a little more and see what goes on out here in the hustings.

There is good reason that some building activities should be monitored. Spray painting, for instance, welding or work involving flammables and stinky chemicals. These shouldn't be banned entirely, in my view, but those doing them should be reminded of local codes and of respecting their neighbors' expensive airplanes. But those aren't FAA issues; they're local airport management issues.

The FAA needs to simply unequivocally bless homebuilding to provide the bedrock support. Airports will take care of the rest. Locally. And why should be we afraid to insist on it?

Here's a follow-up story from EAA this week and look for a guest blog on the topic next week.

Join the conversation.
Read others' comments and add your own.

Comments (29)

It's just another example of the feds being mostly trapped in the 70s.

We have ample evidence from gliders, motorgliders, light sport, and people simply ignoring the rules and flying without a medical to show that medical-condition-induced accidents just Do. Not. Happen. But the FAA and NTSB seems stuck to the idea that flying a little airplane somehow requires us to meet a medical standard not required for other much more stressful and/or demanding activities (firefighting, marathon-running, over-the-road trucking, teaching small children...).

Despite certified training aircraft now costing nearly half a million dollars, and annual homebuilt completions now outpacing production of comparable certified aircraft, the FAA is still stuck to the ideas that homebuilders are a fringe group, and everyone wants a plain-Jane certified airplane with all the attendant certification costs. It also apparently eludes them that some people don't have garages or other workshops readily available, or that people might actually want to spend time at the airport among like-minded individuals that can lend a helping hand or mentor them.
That "airport community" is the only thing I've seen to pull new people in, and the most active airport communities seem to be the ones with active homebuilder contingents and "incidental items" like couches, tools, and refrigerators--not the ones with stark, aseptic hangars and certified airplanes that fly twice a year. Further, the "certification" process for S-LSAs has worked fine--it's time we expand that process to all of the types of light airplanes typically owned and/or operated by individuals for personal use.

Heck, it seems the FAA has missed the whole technology bandwagon and DIY movement. A modern experimental-market EFIS could give most airplanes vastly improved situational awareness at quite reasonable pricing, but to the FAA, a vacuum-driven gyro designed in the 80s is "better" because it has a piece of paper. ADS-B In is cheap and plentiful, Out is expensive
and not being purchased despite FAA edicts because it requires the GPS source to have a piece of paper that increases the cost by an order of magnitude or two. Further, we're to the point that, with easy access to proper guidance and tools (thank you internet) that most people have gotten
very involved in building and maintaining their own things. And thanks to our economy, many people are doing that because they just can't afford to pay a professional to do those things. So why can't people work on their own airplanes? We let them do it for LSAs already and it hasn't caused a problem; Canada allows it and shows no sign of a negative safety impact. It's high time the FAA implements the Primary Non-Commercial category as proposed in the Part 23 ARC report. "Inadvertently" leaving it out is like saying Boeing "inadvertently" left one of the wings off a 787.

We have pilot training that emphasizes NDB use to private pilots, teaches stalls using airspeed, pretends GPS doesn't exist (leaving pilots to use it blindly once licensed, instead of teaching how to use it properly and responsively and how to deal with it failing). We have preflight briefing
information available to us in any format we wish, with clear graphics, near-real-time refresh, and better accuracy than anything before--but none of it counts unless we pick up a phone and call someone so they can read to us the same thing we just read for ourselves. The certification standards are still biased towards magneto-ignited engines, vacuum-driven gyros, poor failure-prone electrical systems, and the same "stall is linked to airspeed" thinking that we had decades ago. They still think of crashworthiness like we did in the 40s and link it solely to seat
restraints, ignoring decades of learning from the automotive industry.

Come on, FAA. It's time you realized the world has changed around you.

Posted by: Bob Martin | August 8, 2014 11:29 AM    Report this comment

The FAA says that airports are federally funded and I agree to a point but many airports have residents that BUY the land that their privately funded hangars are built on. What right does the FAA or anyone else have to say about what the private property is used for? What right does the local governments have to say what you use your personal property for as long as it is legal?

Posted by: Danny Drew | August 8, 2014 11:57 AM    Report this comment

I was absolutely gobsmacked when I read about this policy. My first thought was does the FAA require a lobotomy to gain employment with them? As a builder of an experimental aircraft, I can tell the FAA in no uncertain terms that it is about as aeronautical an activity as you can get. Building your own aircraft teaches you how to be a mechanic, avionics tech, engine installer, hydraulics tech, wiring, riveting, composite work, you name it. I have also helped many pilots on the field with use of my tools and supplies associated with building of our plane. Ever consider that?

My official comment on the FAA website asked them to quit making rules for rules sake and return to their primary mission of promoting aviation and aviation safety.

Posted by: Ric Lee | August 8, 2014 12:05 PM    Report this comment

Bob Martin--you nailed it!

I have a 1939 CAA manual--the material taught today is little-changed from that manual of 75 years ago. This is yet one more example of how out of touch the FAA is.

It has often been said that "If the FAA had been in existence in 1903, the Wrights would never have flown." Someone should tell the FAA that we no longer lie prone on the wings to fly--that "Lindberg made it across the Atlantic"--that "we won the Big One", and "Man landed on the moon."

Posted by: jim hanson | August 8, 2014 12:18 PM    Report this comment

I'm building an RV-9A and I applaud the FAA's position on this. Why? Because I also own a flying airplane (Aircoupe) that had to sit under a shade hangar for more than 10 years at one airport because those hangars were full of half-built or half-restored moldering "projects". A significant percentage of hangars did not have flying aircraft. Here's a clue for you other homebuilders, it's called that because you can build it at home, like I'm doing, and not take away a scarce hangar from a flying, operating aircraft.

The FAA has its problems but far too many pilots just automatically react against everything and anything the FAA does. Congrats to them this time for want to reserve hangars on Federally-funded airports for flying aircraft, not hangar queens that last flew many years ago.

Posted by: Ralph Finch | August 8, 2014 12:18 PM    Report this comment

Ralph Finch,

And how do aspiring aircraft builders who live in apartments achieve their dream? Would you want the
next Burt Rutan to be left out because he/she is not a homeowner?

Our house has only a single car garage. As soon as it was time to put the spar in we had to move to
the airport in order to keep working. There are many circumstances that warrant building your plane
at the airport. Please consider that.

Posted by: Ric Lee | August 8, 2014 12:26 PM    Report this comment

The notion is just silly that FAA's proposed policy is a victory for homebuilders because no aspect of homebuilding was previously permitted in hangars. That silly notion assumes that nothing is permitted until FAA says it is; the reverse is true -- nothing is prohibited until FAA says it is, and even then, there are limits to what FAA can prohibit.

Posted by: JOSEPH CORRAO | August 8, 2014 12:46 PM    Report this comment

It seems like Paul's writing, but still wonder who wrote the blog... :O

As far as aspiring aircraft builders needing the government to achieve their homebuilding dreams, that should be an interesting discussion if wanted. I also think having an aircraft sitting outside for ten years should be 'considered' also.

Over 80% of homebuilding projects are never completed, at least that was true several years ago when I was building my Zenith in my garage. I had to wait 11 months for a hangar to assemble it.

I can see both sides on this, but the ruling does rub me the wrong way in principle.

Posted by: David Miller | August 8, 2014 1:00 PM    Report this comment

The proposed rule also makes most aviation museums, EAA Chapter club houses, and aviation technical schools located on airports illegal, non-aeronautical activities. Most aviation museums require hangar facilities but house no currently annualed and flying aircraft. Most local chapter clubhouses contain meeting room facilities, tools and shop space and a few projects, but few have room to house flying aircraft. Many A&P schools are located on airports but have no operable aircraft and provide no aeronautical services to the public. Along with active homebuilt aircraft projects, all these activities are vital to the aeronautical community. The aeronautical activity they generate warrant protected status for all.
The FAA inspectors won't come looking, but they WILL apply pressure on the local airport manager who will be expected to become the enforcer.

Posted by: Bob Mcdaniel | August 8, 2014 1:01 PM    Report this comment

@Ric: Airports that accept Federal Improvement Grants are very heavily subsidized by the taxpayers, both Federal and often State taxes. Our society, in its cumbersome democratic way, has decided that local airports are a good thing to have for transportation...not someone's hobby. You and the large majority of commentators basically want a big subsidy for your personal hobby.

Sure, I see your point, but how can you justify taking a hangar away to spend years building, when a flying aircraft is subject to all kinds of weather and potential theft and vandalism out on the ramp? Most airports, at least in California, have a shortage of hangars and years-long waiting lists.

Airports are for flying, not pursuing a building hobby. And BTW, google around some, you'd be surprised at the situations people can build RVs in. Smaller aircraft can certainly be built in an apartment. Or get to know someone in a larger hangar or at the end of the row of T-hangars where's there's room.

Posted by: Ralph Finch | August 8, 2014 1:15 PM    Report this comment

In my state, when you rent something, you are the owner of it for the duration of the rent contract or lease. What you do in your property is nobody's business except yours. As for Ralph's comment. So you want someone to give up their hangar that they are building an airplane in so you can rent it and then when/if they finish their project, they have no place to hangar it. Get a life and get in line for a hangar when one becomes available.

Posted by: Richard Warner | August 8, 2014 1:15 PM    Report this comment

Assembling an aircraft is certainly an aeronautical activity in my mind.

On the opposite side however, buying a kit, assembling a wing and part of the fuselage, then leaving it in the hangar for a decade because you have more money than time is certainly NOT an aeronautical activity -- you could move the parts to the local self-storage place, and a completed/flyable aircraft could come in out of the weather.

The FAA is trying to balance both of those concerns - I don't think they've got it quite right, but at least they're not saying "building a plane is de facto non-aeronautical use" which has been how their position was represented previously.

In my mind an appropriate middle ground is necessary for both homebuilding and "repair" in order to balance the need for homebuilders to have access to the space and resources of an airport, and the needs of other airport users who wish to hangar their aircraft. In fact I left a comment on the proposed regulation suggesting a "demonstrable progress" standard as exactly that middle ground: As long as demonstrable progress is being made toward assembling a working aircraft (or repairing a non-working one to flying condition) the hangar is being used for aeronautical purposes.

Posted by: Michael Graziano | August 8, 2014 1:30 PM    Report this comment

@Richard: If it's a private airport, you're correct. But you want taxpayers to pay for your hobby, then you follow the rules of the taxpayers, which at this point prohibit building in a Federally subsidized airport. It's not your own business because you didn't pay for it. Get your own hangar and airport, then you can store furniture there if you want. You didn't pay for it? You don't create the rules.

Posted by: Ralph Finch | August 8, 2014 1:33 PM    Report this comment

As a person who OWNS my hangar on a Federally subsidized airport, I'll be damned if I'm going to be told what I can -- or cannot -- do inside my hangar. I HAVE flyable airplanes (2). Whatever else is in my hangar is MY business. The FAA can kiss my butt ... period. Anyone here who thinks that a Governmental Agency has the right to tell me what I can do in MY building -- one I paid to build, upkeep, pay the ground lease on and taxes on needs to mind their own business. On another airport, I have a leased T-hangar. I keep an airplane in it but I also park a Corvette in there, as well. Same thing. There IS "aeronautical usage" going on. Whatever else is in there is MY business as long as it's legal AND the airport manager blesses. The Government needs to mind its own business.

This is a perfect example of how a part of the FAA -- the airport's section, I guess -- thinks they have some sort of mandate to write such embarrassing garbage regulation. When there are no GA airplanes left, I guess then someone will figure this all out ... when it's too late.

FAA >>> GO AWAY !!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: Larry Stencel | August 8, 2014 1:46 PM    Report this comment

Bob Martin ... you must have been at the "meet the Boss" forum at Airventure. I was the person who asked the Administrator to support the Primary Non-Commercial portion of the FAA Part 23 rewrite (which was a part of their funding Bill a few years ago and STILL isn't done) which was side-stepped when Jack Pelton deflected the question. When he said that the PNC portion was accidentally left off, I was stunned! And, the Administrator had a deer in the headlight look on the subject, as well. What the heck is going on at the FAA?

I just don't know how we can get the dummies at the FAA to 'wake up.' One razor blade at a time, one issue at a time ... the hangar policy being one of them ... the FAA is killing GA. It's time that we stop being nice guys and start fighting them overtly. We need a new organization to do just that.

I read each and every response to the 'new' hangar policy and ... almost to a person ... they are negatively commenting on this new garbage from the folks who are ... "here to help." SIGH

Posted by: Larry Stencel | August 8, 2014 1:56 PM    Report this comment


In my state when you have a conditional lease you can be evicted for violating the conditions of the lease. Hangar rental on federally subsidized airports is a conditional lease (for "aeronautical purposes"), and it is very much the lessor's business what the lessee is doing in there (just as it's a landlord's business if someone starts doing heavy manufacturing in a residential apartment).

I'm certainly not in favor of kicking out builders who are actively working on an aircraft (just as I wouldn't be in favor of kicking out the owner of a completed plane that's grounded for a lengthy restoration project), but I do feel that we need some kind of standard established to prevent hangars from becoming self-storage facilities, or having aircraft languishing in some incomplete state for years on end depriving others of the opportunity to have a place to shelter their aircraft.

Posted by: Michael Graziano | August 8, 2014 2:09 PM    Report this comment

The casual reader could misinterpret numbered item 5 and believe that the draft FAA policy does not allow any aircraft building other than final assembly in airport hangars. That is not the FAA's intent. It is only when hangar demand exceeds hangar supply that it becomes necessary to worry about how hangars are being used, such as how close an aircraft is to test flying. For example, if all the hangars at some airport are full of flyable airplanes, and one hangar space becomes available, a person with a flyable airplane has first priority, a person with an airplane in final assembly has second priority, a person just starting to build has last priority. That is logical way to prioritize use of hangar space that has airfield access. No need to be alarmed.

I am submitting written comments to the draft FAA policy saying this clarification could be done by starting numbered item 5 with the reverse of how item 4 begins; "If an airport's aviation demand substantially exceeds the hangar capacity (there are no vacant hangars and there are requests to rent them)....

Posted by: John Schussler | August 8, 2014 2:35 PM    Report this comment


In instances where a hangar (and the land beneath it) is owned by anyone other than the (FAA-funded) airport, the Agency has yet another set of rules for "through the fence operations." You can get a look at them at:


The AOPA opines on the subject at:


Posted by: Tom Yarsley | August 8, 2014 2:45 PM    Report this comment

I'd like to understand what justification the FAA has in prohibiting storage of other items in an airplane hangar *in addition to* an airplane.

If it's a "T" or square hangar that's designed for one plane, and it has a plane in it, what's the harm in also keeping, say, a jet ski or some camping equipment alongside?

The FAA's proposed revision to its policy allows for "incidental" storage of non-aviation items that take up an "insignificant" amount of space in the hangar. That's progress, but it still seems needlessly restrictive. If the hangar is serving its designated purpose of storing an airplane, I think it should be up to the owner/tenant what else they opt to keep in there (with obvious restrictions on hazmat and so on).

The proposal is open to public comment. I've submitted mine, and I hope other AVweb readers will do the same.

Posted by: MICHAEL KOBB | August 8, 2014 3:05 PM    Report this comment

The distinctions between aviation use and non-aviation use of hangars only becomes an issue when the hangars are all rented.

Only when the hangars are all rented does it matter if the non-aviation things stored in the hangar are displacing additional aircraft that could be stored. Airplane owners are misunderstanding this draft policy, the FAA is not saying you can't keep your canoe under your airplane wing.

Airport managers and hangar landlords are also misunderstanding this draft policy. They should not say "the FAA does not allow you to store your canoe" but they can have that policy themselves if they choose to, because they are the landlord

Posted by: John Schussler | August 8, 2014 3:06 PM    Report this comment

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend this year, but I've read a fair bit about that meeting. It doesn't surprise me. I have seen a few bright spots within the FAA (like Mr. Giron's work on flight testing) but not a lot. A lot of industry isn't much better (so many guys on the ASTM committee seems mired in the 70s and 80s); not sure if that's liability concerns or protection of existing products against new competition.

Posted by: Bob Martin | August 8, 2014 3:24 PM    Report this comment

John Schussler makes a good point--if hangars are available, the airport sponsor IS allowed to used them for non-aviation activity. It would only make common sense to establish a priority for them.

Not addressed, but sure to come up--at many airports, owners continue to lease hangars for "dead" airplanes--airplanes that haven't flown in years--many of them disassembled. What should the priority be on those? Comments?

Perhaps there should be a limit at high-demand airports on how long an airplane can be "under construction." I've known a number of builders that have taken 10 years or more--that's not fair if there is a waiting list. Perhaps there should be an "under construction" provision for, say, 3 years. That would allow both fabrication and final assembly--if a person worked 300 hours a year on the airplane, it would be completed in 3 years--even less if the builder started with small parts and sub-assemblies. It would give an incentive to get the airplane done.

Posted by: jim hanson | August 8, 2014 3:27 PM    Report this comment

This crap scares me. Massive micro-management followed regulatory cataclysms.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | August 8, 2014 7:39 PM    Report this comment

I suspect a lot of this revolves around government accountability - I can just see the evening news story, "Airport allows hangar supported by YOUR tax dollars to be used for . . . . . "

Posted by: Josh Johnson | August 8, 2014 9:42 PM    Report this comment

New airframes - Save GA!

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | August 9, 2014 7:03 AM    Report this comment

Michael Cobb: I think that what you are saying is categorizing the FAA,landord/renter/owner taxpayer use of hangar dilemma in three phases:

a.) pregnant

b.) a little pregnant

c.) not pregnant.

Under "pregnant" - only airworthy aircraft would be stored

Under "a little pregnant" - then it's ok to put canoe under wing of out of annual and in process aircraft

Under "not pregnant" - everything goes.

I get it.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | August 9, 2014 6:38 PM    Report this comment

Finding all this anger really bizarre. My local airport has a multi-year waiting list for $500+/mo hangars I would love to be in. Why in the world should anything but a flying aircraft be in one of these? At least in an urban area, hangars are a precious resource.

What is the average build time for a plane? Years, right? And if I've read it right, less than half of the kits purchased have ever flown....that's long term...many are abandoned projects. I get this...it's hard...I've built big projects before and I support home-builders but no reason to take up a hangar in the process.

I'm grateful to the FAA for this policy and I must say, I'm grateful for the airports and ATC and the infrastructure that everyone contributes to but a small group gets to use. One would think they could stop bitching once in a while and realize what a sweet deal they've got.

Posted by: Jonathan Micocci | August 18, 2014 11:02 PM    Report this comment

All parties agree on, that the purpose for the use of the space should be related to Aviation. It makes sense to create a priority list which gives priority to registered active aircraft over projects. Other than that, it is no ones business to "dictate" what else is in the hangar. If it is a homebuilt or restoration project that is in progress it qualifies. We are paying money for the space and as such, as long as the major area is aviation related, it is no ones business other than that it complies with the Fire Marshall rules.
Some have a private hangar on Aviation designated ground that is at a vacation location used on weekends and holidays, and while some or most of the time there is no aircraft in that space, it might be used to store the boat, car, snow mobile for the time where the owners are not there. There is nothing wrong about that. One could even argue on this if it were a rented hangar and there is no waiting list that precludes other aircraft to get a hangar space.
Micro managing the hangar content aside from aviation related items allowed is typical of the change of this government shifting from the point of Innocent until proven guilty to guilty and you have to prove your innocence, which puts a burden on the individual and thus on the economy.
This is for sure a recipe to further stifle the enthusiasm for aviation and thus stabbing GA with another unneeded piece of regulation whose enforcement and disruption will cost our society a huge amount of money, let alone the effects that it will have on the economy and GA in particular.
As a last note, there is already a self governing system of tenants, which actually have their own hangar safety in mind and network together to keep the hangars aviation related. We as pilots and tenants should take our privilege serious by helping those who go out of bound to get back. There is no need for further regulations. There are already too many...... Thanks for reading.

Posted by: Gerhard Paasche | August 27, 2014 2:23 PM    Report this comment

How can the FAA ban Homebuilt aircraft from initial assy. at an airport yet allow the major manufacturers to build aircraft at FAA Funded airports. Beachcraft, Boeing, Cessna, Cirrus, and HondaJet all come to mind. Also how can they ban manufacturing yet allow restoration of aircraft that clearly were not able to "Fly" into the airport. Do they really have our best intrests in mind, just like a ramp inspector telling us "I am here to help you out".

Posted by: Franklin Berry | September 8, 2014 6:53 AM    Report this comment

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