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What rules govern the ownership of airports (both public and private)?

Ownership rules governing private airports are based on state transportation policies and authorities, and vary significantly between states. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)  imposes considerable obligations on airport sponsors, whether public or private entities, that receive direct grants of funds or conveyances of land, and in return, agree to the assurances at 49 USC Section 47107.


What is the authorisation procedure for the operation of airports?

US airport operations are governed by regulations promulgated by the FAA. Part 139 of the Federal Aviation Regulations sets forth the specific requirements for the certification of airports and the equipment required at US airports. States and municipalities may also prescribe local operating requirements.  

What ongoing operating requirements apply (including obligations relating to safety, security and facilities maintenance)?

The FAA regulates airports serving air carrier operations, and imposes significant requirements on any recipient of federal grants. The FAA inspects administrative record keeping, the condition of movement areas (including markings, lighting and control of ground vehicles, aircraft rescue and firefighting procedures), fuel facilities and specific items related to night operations (see 49 USC 139). These inspections usually occur annually, but may be unannounced.

FAA-authorised aviation safety inspectors must be provided free and uninterrupted access to public use airports and facilities, including airport operating areas, security identification display areas, and any other secured or restricted area. A ‘public use airport’ includes public airports and privately owned airports used or intended to be used for public purposes that are reliever airports, or have at least 2,500 passengers boarding each year and receive scheduled passenger aircraft service (49 USC Section 153.4).

Airport charges

What airport charges apply and how are they regulated?

As a matter of policy the FAA views the amount of airport charges as an issue between local authorities and airport users. Under FAA grant agreements all aeronautical users are entitled to airport access on fair and reasonable terms without unjust discrimination. The FAA prefers to permit the market to determine applicable rates, but will review rate disputes to ensure rates are fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory, and that revenues of grant recipients are used for allowable statutory uses. Environmental fees are acceptable to the extent that they are tied to an actual cost, as are charges related to debt servicing. Airports often seek to use passenger facility charges (PFCs) to fund facilities development. Before applying for authority to impose a PFC, the public agency running the airport must provide written notice and an opportunity for public comment on the proposed PFC.


What regulations govern access to airports?

As part of its grants programme the FAA requires recipients of grant proceeds to provide and adhere to assurances relating to non-discrimination with regard to access to airport facilities.

Airports that receive federal funds, including conveyance of land, are subject to an exclusive rights prohibition as long as the airport continues to operate. This prohibits an airport from granting an exclusive right for the use of the airport, including the provision of aeronautical services to the public. The exclusive rights prohibition supports the longstanding government policy of promoting airport development by preventing the creation of monopoly services at airports. The prohibition is codified at 49 USC Sections 40103(e), 47107(a) and 47152. Subject to availability of space and safety considerations, any certificated operator may operate from an airport.

Slot allocation

What regime governs the allocation of airport slots (including slot transfer, revocation and disputes)?

Airport infrastructure may not be able to meet the demand by air carriers for take-off or landing times. Where this occurs, the FAA may impose mandatory slot coordination requirements (pursuant to its authority at 49 USC Section 40103(b)) to ensure the efficient use of navigable airspace. A ‘slot’ is the authority to conduct one take-off or landing under the instrument flight rules each day during a specific hour or 30-minute period at a specific airport. Slots will be lost if not used. The FAA recalls slots not utilised at least 80% of the time over a two-month period. Three US airports are subject to FAA-imposed slot controls:

  • Washington Reagan National Airport;
  • New York LaGuardia Airport; and
  • New York John F Kennedy International Airport.

Ground handling

How are ground handling services regulated?

Ground handling services are not generally subject to federal licensing requirements and regulation. However, the Transportation Security Administration and FAA may have standards which apply to services provided by ground-handlers, such as cargo screening and loading and aircraft refuelling.

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