What’s a hangar for, anyway?

by Tim Jarvis
MnDOT – Aeronautics
Published online Midwest Flyer Magazine – February/March 2021

When asked recently to write about hangar usage, I immediately thought back to my manager days at a local FBO in the early 2000s. Even then, understanding what was allowed to be stored in a hangar, was a regular question raised by myself and others. 

To answer that question of proper and allowed hangar use, what I first needed to understand were the rules that govern airports. What I discovered then – and still holds true today – is that if an airport is receiving federal funds, the airport manager must follow the FAA’s interpretation of what hangar compliance means. I also learned that the FAA provides guidance through their Airport Compliance Program.

Under the FAA’s Airport Compliance Program, airport sponsors who have received federal grant money must use airport facilities exclusively for aviation purposes. These guidelines are intended to make sure that money spent at an airport stays at the airport. The FAA is trying to protect the aviation community so that airport funds are not spent for non-aviation purposes. 

The FAA deems the primary purpose of a public airport hangar is to store aircraft. However, that does not mean only aircraft are allowed inside a hangar. If most of the hangar use is dedicated to aeronautical activity, other items may also be stored inside the hangar, so long as those items do not interfere with the storage of aircraft. Some examples of other items may include maintenance items and tools for the building, items for maintaining or repairing aircraft, and office equipment and furnishings. 

So, what about the non-commercial building of aircraft and non-flying aircraft? Are they considered aeronautical activities?  

I did a little digging and learned that the FAA has given these topics a lot of consideration. The non-commercial building of aircraft has been deemed an aeronautical activity, and as long as a reasonable timeframe is respected, an aircraft can be in a hangar in non-flying status.

Each year the FAA conducts land use inspections at selected airports. These inspections ensure that airport sponsors are using the land designated for aeronautical purposes as intended. It is the responsibility of each local airport sponsor to implement the requirements necessary to maintain a standardized national airport system.

Federally funded airports may set up an advance notice with hangar owners for an onsite inspection. This inspection includes some of the following items:

• The hangar holds an airworthy aircraft, or if the aircraft is not airworthy, progress should be noted. 

• Items such as boats, campers, and other personal recreation vehicles must not impede the main use of the hangar.

• Combustible materials are properly stored, and fire extinguishers are available. 

• A way for the airport sponsor to access the hangar quickly, in case there is a fire, missing aircraft or other emergency.

If an airport is not receiving federal funds, discretion is left up to the airport owner. All owners and operators may want to follow the FAA’s guidance and enforce its rules through lease structure, regulation and enforcement.

Non-flying aircraft, and other non-aviation equipment stored in hangars, can negatively affect an airport through lost fuel sales and potential maintenance income. Those lost dollars typically have a direct impact on the airport, as they can help provide local pilots and hangar owners with essential services. When hangars are full of other “stuff,” it often hurts everyone in the airport community. 

Maintaining proper hangar use by all airport tenants ensures that the demands of the airport can be met. This involves the entire aviation community. From fuel to aircraft sales, repair shops, and other service centers, reserving hangar use for aeronautical activity just makes “plane sense.” Failure to keep hangar use focused squarely on aviation activity may result in the loss of federal dollars, along with a vibrant and potentially expanding aviation community.

Local pilots are the heart and soul in any aviation community. Pilots and local hangar owners should work with airport sponsors to help all involved understand the needs of their local airport community. By working as a group, sponsors can enact hangar use programs that meet specific, local needs. This can include a waitlist should hangar demand require it. It’s also important to note that the FAA does allow some flexibility, recognizing each airport has its own conditions.

By owning or building a hangar on federally funded airport land, you are accepting the FAA’s conditions through the airport. When an airport sponsor accepts federal funds, the FAA conveys obligations by regulation and adherence to federal law. In the case of noncompliance, the FAA may deny the airport federal money for new hangar construction.

For more information on FAA rules, policy and guidance for hangars, visit www.faa.gov/airports/airport_compliance/hangar_use. For hangar information at your local airport, contact the local airport manager or city manager.

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