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Building Blocks for Airport Land Use Compatibility

FAR Surfaces

To implement effective land use planning and control measures around airports, it is necessary to identify specific planning boundaries. These boundaries will define the airport environs for land-use planning purposes. It is essential that Airport Owners, elected officials, land-use planners and developers understand the components of an effective compatible airport land-use plan. A comprehensive plan will incorporate federal and state airport design criteria, safety of flight requirements and land use provisions unique to the community. The Department of Aviation recommends that Safety Zones, Standard Traffic Patterns, Overflight Areas, Noise Contours and FAR Part 77 height restriction criteria be considered as “building blocks” by land-use planners when developing zoning ordinances, airport overlay districts and comprehensive land-use plans for their community. A comprehensive plan for airport-compatible land-uses should include an area large enough to consider all these factors.Noise Contours


Noise Contours  

Aircraft noise is the single largest generator of airport-related complaints. For compatibility    planning purposes, noise levels are expressed in Ldn (day/night noise level). Ldn is an expression of noise impact derived from various factors such as airport traffic patterns, arrival and departure routes, traffic mix (types and numbers of aircraft), airport operation counts (an operation is a takeoff or landing), terrain characteristics (elevation of surrounding areas relative to airport elevation), etc. The noise level is “averaged” over a period of at least 24 hours. The FAA’s Integrated Noise Model (INM) will generate noise contours (lines of equal averaged noise value) around an airport. The noise contours are very useful when trying to define airport planning boundaries. A generally accepted standard for noise compatibility for residential and other noise-sensitive uses is 65 dB (decibels) Ldn.



Overflight Areas

Overflight Areas    

Some areas adjacent to airports that lie outside the identified noise contours such as the 65 Ldn, or even the 55 Ldn, where the frequent overflight by aircraft operating to and from the airport will be perceived by citizens as a nuisance. The areas of frequent overflight include areas under commonly used approach and departure routes for an airport, including areas under airport traffic patterns. Common approach, departure and missed approach routes include extended runway centerlines, procedural approach and departure routes prescribed the FAA during “visual flight rules” and “instrument flight rules”. The local airport owner or FAA Airports District Office can provide information regarding common traffic pattern areas and safety of flight requirements.

The Department of Aviation recommends that communities discourage the development of residences, schools, churches, hospitals, daycare centers, nursing homes and other similar uses, including uses resulting in large open-air assemblies of people, such as amphitheaters and stadiums in Overflight Areas. Compatible uses include commercial, industrial, agricultural, golf courses, parks and other similar uses.

Airport Overlay Zone Airport Overlay Zone

If permitted, development will encroach upon airport boundaries and violate critical airspace; therefore, it is important that effective land use planning and control measures around airports be adopted establishing specific planning boundaries in the form of an Airport Overlay Zone. The Airport Overlay Zone boundaries will define the airport environs for land-use planning purposes.

The Department of Aviation recommends a plan-form view of the perimeter of the Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) Part 77 conical surface area for the airport be used to establish the boundaries of an Airport Overlay Zone. Additional options may be used to further define and establish boundaries, such as using natural and man-made linear features (i.e., highways, roads, riverbeds, canals, etc.) or defining an area around the airport large enough to encompass all compatibility considerations and incorporating federal and state geometric safety criteria (e.g. runway protection zones, traffic pattern areas, instrument approach zones).



Airport Land Use Compatibility Plan


Airport Land Use Compatibility Plan

The costs of dealing with public complaints and lawsuits associated with incompatible land use issues incurred by airports and planning jurisdictions, can be considerable over time. The Department of Aviation recommends each community develop an Airport Land-Use Plan or incorporate these “building blocks” into their comprehensive plan, as a means to protect their airport. This diagram depicts a comprehensive plan incorporating all the “building blocks”.

Airports and their related businesses are crucial to a community’s ability to grow. Unfortunately, in today’s environment it doesn’t seem to matter if the airport existed long before the incompatible uses surrounding it. The economic development pressures on local governments to expand and provide new housing are limitless. Comprehensive planning of land uses that tend to be more compatible to the airport operations and safety requirements minimize problems within communities and help to foster cooperation with many different interests as the community grows. The simple solution to mitigating existing compatibility issues and planning compatible uses in the future will most likely be found in cooperative efforts by airport owners, local jurisdictions and developers.

In order to provide more information on Compatible Land Use Planning, The Virginia Department of Aviation has published “Airport Safety Zoning: A User’s Guide for Local Government Officials.” Other resources that might be beneficial are the Federal Aviation Administration’s Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs). Those applicable are Part 77 (Airspace) and Part 150 (Noise).

Please contact the Virginia Department of Aviation for more detailed information on the resources and processes available concerning these issues.

Virginia Department of Aviation
5702 Gulfstream Road
Richmond, Virginia 23250
1-800-292-1034 (Virginia only)

*Diagrams courtesy of Denver Regional Council of Governments.