The Regulated Airport

As most of my readers will know, regulatory compliance is a HUGE deal in the aviation industry. This becomes apparent as soon as flight training begins. Someone outside of aviation may imagine that learning to fly is just learning which buttons to push and levers to pull to operate an aircraft, but the reality is that a large chunk of pilot training involves learning regulations and how to comply with them. The same goes for airports. A phrase that is thrown around a lot in Airport Operations curriculum is “The Regulated Airport.” Truly, an airport is under constant scrutiny and oversight by several different regulatory agencies.

When faced with a problem in aviation you must always ask yourself, “is there a regulation that applies to this?” Next, you think “where can I find this regulation?” Finally, “Does this comply with the regulation? If not, how can I fix it?” Since moving from the flight side to the airport side, it has always been surprising to me the variety of regulatory agencies that could be involved at any one time for any one problem.

Today I would like to provide an overview of some of the major regulations that airports must comply with, as both an exercise for myself and hopefully an interesting read for those outside of the aviation industry. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but will look at some of the regulations that come up most frequently.

Regulated Airport

Part 139
For the day to day operations of an airport with commercial service, the Federal Aviation Administration’s 14 CFR Part 139 is the governing regulation. This includes instruction on employee training, record keeping, wildlife management, airfield inspections, Airport Emergency Plans, and hundreds of other topics relating to airport operations. The most interesting thing about Part 139 is that an airport looking to earn certification writes their own Airport Certification Manual (ACM) outlining how they will comply with the different sections of Part 139, and it is signed and approved by an FAA inspector. The airport's ACM then becomes the regulatory document. 

Part 1542
The Department of Homeland Security has issued Transport Security Regulations (TSRs) that require airports to maintain certain security measures. This includes background checks on individuals that have access to secure areas, badging and access control, and a variety of other regulations regarding the security of airport property. One of the major security regulations that airports with commercial service must comply with is Title 49 CFR Part 1542. Similar to Part 139 and the ACM, airports write their own Airport Security Plan (ASP) which is then approved and becomes their unique regulating document. 

Grant Assurances
Any airport that accepts federal funding for a project is subject to the Grant Assurances for up to 20 years, depending on the lifetime of the project. These sets of regulations can also apply to a General Aviation airport that does not have to comply with Part 139, if they accept money from the Federal Government. Grant Assurances are obligations for the airport to keep itself in the best possible condition and properly operated. There are a total of 39 Grant Assurances, and they cover topics such as Economic Nondiscrimination, Compatible Land Use, and Planning Projects. 

Environmental Regulations
There are several environmental regulations that airports must comply with, both with the FAA and the EPA. The environmental issues that the FAA governs mostly relate to Airport Noise. For example, 14 CFR Part 150 “Airport Noise Compatibility Planning” and 14 CFR Part 161 “Airport Noise and Access Restrictions.” Airplane Noise has been a hot topic since well before the Jet Age, and the FAA has precise rules for how airports plan for and handle it. 

Airports also handle a variety of hazardous and toxic materials, so it is vital that proper quarantine and drainage protocols are in place to protect the local water supply. Many airports work closely with the Environmental Protection Agency to identify and avoid possible water pollution. 

Financial Regulations
Airports are subject to a variety of financial regulations, determining what they charge and how they use their funds. This is especially important when they accept Federal funding, and should be taken very seriously. 

Self-Implemented Regulations
In addition to all of the external regulations that airports must comply with, airports make their own internal rules as well. These rules are called Minimum Standards, and are required under Grant Assurance 19, Operations and Maintenance. Minimum Standards are used so that the relationship and expectations between the airport operator and airport users are clear and understood. 

This concludes my overview of some of the regulations that commercial airports must be aware of and comply with in their daily operations. Hopefully you learned something or had a nice refresher. Let me know in the comments below if you've had experience with any of these! 

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