An article in the March 23, 2009 edition of Aviation Week & Space Technology reports that, because of the decreased demand for air travel and the resulting loss of airport revenues, U.S. airports are seeking to replace lost revenues through non-airline related uses of airport land.  According to AW&ST, almost half of the revenues earned by airports comes from landing fees and rent for ticket counters and gates.  The balance comes from food and retail concessions, parking fees, rental car facilities and on-site hotels.  Therefore, as passenger traffic declines, so do airport revenues.

The declines in passenger traffic and airport revenues have forced airports to focus more on the use of one of their most valuable assets – land.  Many airports are looking at developing airport land for aviation related uses that do not produce passenger generated revenues, such as flight simulator facilities and air cargo facilities.  Some airports are considering non-aeronautical uses of airport property, such as warehouses, distribution centers and light industry, as alternate sources of revenue.

These kinds of uses present a number of potentially critical issues that must be considered in planning the use of airport land for non-aviation purposes, as well as planning for nearby off-airport development.  For example, entry by suppliers and employees of on-airport businesses are likely to create added airport access and security concerns.  New on-airport structures may impact air and ground safety and air traffic control procedures, and limit or restrict future changes in airport configuration and development.  New airport tenants will require new airport ground leases.

Another related question is whether the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will apply and  enforce Federal grant assurances with respect to non-aeronautical activities on airport property.  Sponsors of public airports that accept Federal assistance, either in the form of grants under the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) or property conveyances under the Surplus Property Act, are obligated to comply with certain written grant assurances that require that the airport be operated for the use and benefit of all types, kinds and classes of aeronautical activity.  Federally obligated airport sponsors are prohibited from discriminating among airport users or granting exclusive rights, i.e., a right granted to a single operator to provide an aeronautical activity to the exclusion of others.  The grant assurances expressly refer only to aeronautical activities.  However, with the advent of increased non-aeronautical activity on airport property, the applicability of grant assurances to such activity is likely to become an important issue.

Other potential issues include increased on- and off-airport surface transportation, increased off-airport development, increased applications by businesses or individuals for access to the airport infrastructure from outside airport property, i.e., “through-the-fence” operations, and various environmental impact issues.