Airports are important economic generators for the Commonwealth of Virginia. They provide significant economic impacts, both direct and indirect, for the cities and counties in which they are located and neighboring communities, as well. Aviation industries generate jobs for the Commonwealth and the respective community, both on and off airport sites, as well as provide products and services for sale. The indirect economic benefits (visitor spending) of airports are not as obvious, but are often equal or greater than direct impacts. The 2003 Virginia Airport System Economic Impact Study reported the total economic impact for all Virginia airports at almost $10.7 billion, with a contribution in total wages of almost $4.9 billion and a total of nearly 165,000 jobs..
General Aviation airports located in close proximity to business travelers’ final destinations provide added value and flexibility to their schedules in today’s highly competitive global market place. Recognizing this benefit, many national and international corporations recognize the convenience of a general aviation airport as a major factor in determining where to locate their executive, operations or manufacturing facilities. These decisions greatly benefit a community as they translate into jobs, tax revenues and far reaching positive impacts into the local business community.
The services and benefits of general aviation go well beyond economic development alone. General aviation airports support various law enforcement activities, provide access for critical emergency services, search and rescue operations, disaster relief efforts, firefighting and support the farming industry by the use of agricultural spraying services. Weather observation facilities located on General Aviation Airports provide timely information and are used in developing forecasts. Equally beneficial, General Aviation Airports serve as a destination for tourism and those who enjoy recreational flying.
Despite their obvious benefits, airports are under increasing pressure to modify operations, relocate or even close due to perceived noise and safety related impacts. This situation is often caused by development pressures placed on local decision makers, faced with the need to provide new schools, additional housing and increased business opportunities. The Federal government, the Commonwealth and local governments all have substantial public investments in Virginia’s airport system. Unfortunately, available funding for replacing or relocating existing airports is becoming increasingly scarce, while the cost of capital and maintenance projects is steadily growing. Thus, it is vital to the future of the Commonwealth that we take the appropriate steps to preserve and protect our existing airport system from the encroachment of incompatible land-uses.
To protect our airports from undesirable land-uses, local governments, developers and airport operators need to cooperate and communicate. Local governments may help by planning and developing compatible land uses around regional airports. Commercial, industrial and agricultural uses, to name a few, tend to be more compatible and less sensitive to airport activity than residential uses.
Numerous options can be used by localities and airports to enhance the compatibility between the airport and the community. To address the problem, the airport and locality need to cooperatively work together to determine the appropriate level of land use compatibility planning required to protect the airport from encroachment and provide the community the blueprint to grow so to meet the increasing development pressures of urban and suburban growth.
This page is intended to provide guidance to community leaders and airport owners as they plan future development and to encourage cooperation and understanding. It defines compatible land use planning considerations for communities near airports and identifies actions airports can take to be a better neighbor. It is necessary for jurisdictions, airport owners and developers to work collectively in order to protect the public’s investment in their respective local airports. This is an important factor for local businesses to grow and compete in the global market place. Likewise, it is equally important for airport operators to be mindful of potential impacts on their neighbors when trying to meet the needs of the flying public.
How Can Communities Protect Airports
All communities face development pressures, therefore it is important that compatible land use planning around airports receive special consideration in several areas. These include areas where the height of objects or structures must be restricted, areas with the greatest potential for aircraft accidents, areas where airport-related noise should be mitigated, and areas of regular or frequent overflight (such as the areas under airport approaches and traffic patterns).
Protecting Airspace Around Airports
One of the greatest threats to pilot safety is intrusion of an airport’s airspace by the erection of structures that penetrate through imaginary surfaces that encircle the airport and are identified to primarily protect the approach and departure phase of flight. Other areas of overflight would be encircling the airport as defined by the local traffic pattern. These would also include areas of actual or potential flight paths identified by instrument approach and missed approach procedures. It is the responsibility of federal and state agencies with the cooperation and primary responsibility of local airport operators to protect airport airspace.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has prescribed standards for the height of objects near airports in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Title 14, Part 77, “Objects Affecting Navigable Airspace.” This regulation defines a system of imaginary surfaces around an airport, through which no fixed object or structure should penetrate. The imaginary surfaces are designed to protect the critical airspace around an airport and allow for the safe operation of aircraft to and from the airport (Figure 1).
Likewise, the Commonwealth of Virginia has standards for the height of objects near airports and airport safety zoning in the Code of Virginia, Title 5 and Title 15. Virginia laws parallel federal standards and can found in the following sections of the Code of Virginia:
• ‑Section 5.1-25.1- Permitting required for erection of certain structures
• Section 15.1-489- Purpose of zoning ordinances
• Section 15.1-491.02- Airport Safety Zoning
The Virginia Department of Aviation provides technical expertise to assist local governments and airport operators in developing ordinances to preserve their airport’s airspace and ensure compliance with federal and state requirements. However, it is the Airport Operators’ and local governments’ responsibility for adopting and enforcing these ordinances. Airport operators and local governments are encouraged to work closely with the Department and the FAA to protect the single most valuable commodity to an airport- “Airspace”.