By Harve Allen
OKLAHOMA CITY – A new law, the Aircraft Pilot and Passenger Protection Act, became effective Oct. 1 that will protect the lives of airplane passengers and pilots as well as those that live and work around a public-use airport in Oklahoma. The law will ensure that development around an airport is compatible with airplane takeoffs and landings.
The new law also applies to military airports such as Tinker Air Force Base by preventing incompatible land use around those airports.
“Protecting the integrity and safety of military aircraft operations and airspace used by the military for training has been critical to Oklahoma’s success insofar as preventing base closures or transfers of significant missions,” Director of Aeronautics Victor Bird said.
The act does not apply to privately owned airports that are for private use only or to publicly owned airports in cities with populations of more than 500,000.
Additionally, any person that wants to build a structure for an incompatible use within 500 feet of an airport runway centerline or in the runway protection zone would have to obtain a permit first from the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission. Homes, schools, child care facilities, hospitals, nursing homes and churches would all be considered incompatible with airport operations, including the landing and takeoff of aircraft.
Under the act, any person that wants to build any structure that is in excess of 150 feet above an airport’s elevation and within three miles of the airport must also first obtain a permit from the Aeronautics Commission. Alterations to existing structures within that three-mile radius also need a permit if the height of the resulting structure exceeds 150 feet.
Bird noted that between 1995 and 2005, the most recent statistics available, more than one airport a week was closed in the U.S. due, in large part, to encroaching development. He stressed that the act was designed not to stop development around airports but to ensure that it was compatible with airport operations, and to protect the flying public as well as those who live and work near a public-use airport.
“This is in no way an anti-development law,” Bird stressed. “We love the fact that businesses want to either build or expand in our state; we just don’t want them to do it so close to our airports where their structures could become hazards to air navigation. Development and airports can mutually coexist.”
Bird explained that the Federal Aviation Administration does not regulate development near public-use airports but instead leaves those kinds of decisions to local officials. He said the act does not take away any zoning authority from municipalities but rather complements it by providing another layer of protection.
According to state officials, there are currently 140 public-use airports in Oklahoma.