News & Information You’ll Want To Know In Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota & South Dakota
by Bryan Budds
Manager, AOPA Great Lakes Region
Over the past year, you likely have read several Great Lakes Regional Reports and noticed a strong focus on AOPA’s efforts to secure sustainable funding mechanisms for general aviation airports across states in the Great Lakes Region. This is a core focus of AOPA’s efforts within the state legislative arena, but with a new year comes new goals for your association and 2016 will be no different.
While several legislative victories in 2015 secured additional airport funding in states like Michigan and Ohio, and similar efforts nearing completion in Minnesota and Indiana, AOPA will expand its focus to the future – and the future of airport protection – while still maintaining a close watch on state budget situations and taxes GA pilots are subject to across the region.
How often have we encountered the story of the airport neighbor that is upset with the noise level, or observed airport operations, limited by buildings, trees, or other obstructions being placed in the safety areas near our airports? I am sure everyone knows of at least one story and it’s something AOPA members report to me with unfortunate frequency. But, what can be done? How can we truly help address the core of the problem, rather than attempting to triage the issue after that water tower, school, or apartment building is built? The answer is simple, but requires truly a long-term vision – land use planning.
Now, before you fall asleep, let’s talk about this objectively. Obviously, no city or county councilor or commissioner wants to be put into a position of choosing between approving a new development and restricting an airport in his or her municipality. A rational policymaker wants both things to coexist in a thoughtful and well-planned manner. Unfortunately, in any political body, the planning process is much more short term – with our leaders leaving that issue “for the next guy.” In the airport policy world that type of vision causes many of our issues and here’s why.
Consider your local airport for a moment. Imagine now that a brand new elementary school has been built underneath the heavily used traffic pattern. Of course, noise complaints begin to stream steadily into the FAA, the state aviation department, and local policymakers. Quickly, thereafter, attempts to modify the traffic pattern are put in place, but do not cause a decrease in noise complaints. The FAA begins to take a closer look at where and why the complaints are being made and finds the airport is not fully in compliance with its grant assurances dealing with airport zoning and can then limit the funds being made available to the airport, close runways, or even worse. You certainly can see how the issue progresses, and it’s a cycle AOPA wants to eliminate. Luckily, several states in our area have done some great work in this area – notably both Wisconsin and Minnesota. Wisconsin’s Airport Land Use Guidebook (http://wisconsindot.gov/Documents/doing-bus/aeronautics/resources/arptlusguibk.pdf) is available to airport management, local policymakers, and the public and clearly explains the importance of proper land use zoning and the role of both state and local policymakers in the process. Similarly, Minnesota’s Land Use Compatibility Manual (http://www.dot.state.mn.us/aero/planning/landuse-compatibility-manual.html) provides similar guidance and serves as one of the strongest airport land use planning documents in the country.
In the coming months, AOPA will be collecting best practices on airport zoning from across the region and country, meeting with stakeholders on how to implement a system where one does not exist, or improve the existing system. In most states, this will require a legislative modification, so keep an eye out in AOPA’s publications and in Midwest Flyer Magazine as they progress!