Security and fire codes are issues facing airparks

By Dave Sclair

A couple issues have surfaced in recent months that might have considerable impact upon residential airparks. I’ve had several contacts about these situations so I’m bringing them to your attention and asking for your ideas and also what experience you’ve had with them.

The first issue relates to building codes and the size of hangars either standing-alone or as an integral part of an airpark home.

The second item is concerned with security on airparks and what contacts you’ve had from federal, state and local officials.

Let’s touch on the building code item first:

People in different parts of the country have called to tell me they are having problems with local building permit offices because of the size of the hangar they want to construct.

Basically speaking, the problem seems to be when a person tries to get a permit for a hangar that is over 2,000 square feet. The local building permit people indicate that such a facility must be built to commercial building specifications. That usually means more stringent requirements for fire protection, wiring, etc., and higher building costs.

Upon questioning the building code specialists, the answer usually gets back to the National Fire Protection Code that virtually all states have adopted and have become mandatory for local departments.

You may have read or heard something recently about the new regulations. A couple of the more onerous ones include a prohibition on open-flame BBQs on a deck of a condo where there is no sprinkler system installed. The other one prohibits Christmas trees in public buildings like schools, churches and stores.

I think the National Fire Code has had the 2,000 sf limit on hangars for many years but I suspect that because of the recent update in it local building inspectors and fire marshals are suddenly paying more attention. I recall a neighbor on Shady Acres Airport in Spanaway, WA having that exact problem more than 20 years ago. He resolved that problem by putting in an interior wall that limited the hangar portion to exactly 2,000 sf and that satisfied everyone. (I wonder if that wall is still there?)

The solution to this problem obviously requires education with the people who write the National Fire Code and subsequent amendments. Those two areas are simple to say but extremely difficult to accomplish. I am working with the local fire department to reach state officials here to get the process started but it is going to take a great deal more effort than what I can do alone.

The other issue relates to security.

At General Aviation News, our 24-times-a-year newspaper for general aviation, we’ve had some contacts about private airports getting contacted by federal and state officials about security. We all are aware of the increased vigilance at air carrier airports since 9/11, but from what some people seem to be hearing is that now local agencies are attempting to get fencing around private and residential airparks to “make sure airplanes can’t be stolen or the airport utilized for terrorist or other illegal activities.”

Unfortunately, the information about the supposed contacts is always second-hand and no one seems to have a positive feel for where these actions are coming from.

If you or anyone at your airpark has been approached by local, state or federal officials urging security fencing or other measures, please let me know about it. We all know the risk to anyone from the vast majority of general aviation airplanes is virtually non-existent, but just like the hangar over 2,000 sf must meet commercial requirements, those who are less informed often make up the rules.

Let me hear from you on both these issues.