Report from Washington

By special arrangement, this monthly feature appears simultaneously in Flying and The Aeroplane, London

[byline to Edgar S Garrell, President, Air Transport Association of America.]

The Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce of the House of Representatives recently favorably reported a bill (HR 1012) which squarely faces and provides an excellent means of solving one of the most difficult problems facing civilian aviation in this country. It directs the administrator of civil aeronautics to prepare a program for the regulation of the height of structures in the vicinity of airports where the safety of aerial navigation might be impaired and, through cooperation with local administrative authorities, endeavor to establish uniform zoning regulations throughout the entire country. Where necessary in the national interest, the administrator is given authority to prescribe areas in the vicinity of airports and to promulgate zoning regulations, subject to judicial review and the payment of compensation where private equities might be impaired.

The necessity for action of this kind has been well-known to the industry itself for a good many years. Congress took cognizance of the growing problem as long ago as 1934, when it amended the Air Commerce Act of 1926, to require the maintenance of signals on certain types of structures that they might be made visible to pilots during night flights.

As great as has been the need for uniformity of zoning regulations to eliminate unnecessary safety hazards in the past, the need for the effective operation of such regulations continues to grow immeasurably. In the final analysis it is the municipal governments throughout the nation that will have a vital part to play in an adequate solution of this problem, even though the interstate character of commercial aviation and the vital role it is playing in national defense requires Federal concern and action.

Perhaps no other industry has ever concentrated so much of its engineering skill on the problem of safety in transportation as has the civil aviation industry of this country. From the very beginning of its existence the best brains in its personnel have given their attention to the problem. The industry can well be proud of the results attained. The fruit of its efforts is best measured, perhaps, in the fact that insurance companies now write day to day insurance on air travelers at rates as low or lower than that prevailing for other modes of travel. Insofar as the air lines themselves are concerned, they will continuously devote their best efforts to this question in order to continue that assurance of safety to its patrons.

The question of airport zoning regulations, however, is a matter beyond their control, and today the greatest hazards to air travel are almost entirely due to the lack of uniform regulations throughout the entire country. It is imperative that the present conditions be improved at the earliest possible date. The plans for the future of civil aviation require immediate action.

There can be no doubt in the minds of far-seeing men that with the declaration of peace, commercial aviation will progress at a far more rapid rate than its phenomenal growth prior to the war. The constantly increasing demand for the transport of all First-class mail (and probably all mail), by air when it will save time in delivery to its destination, presages action by Congress which will undoubtedly make this a fact in the not unreasonable future. Paralleling this will be the tremendously increased utilization of air transport facilities for the rapid transportation of all manner of commodities by express to insure speedy delivery. At the same time, the technological advances already made under the stress of war emergency fore-shadows huge cargo planes as quickly as they can be built following the war.

All of these facts point surely to the construction of numerous additional airports throughout the nation, with all of the attendant facilities required by aeronautics. Municipalities, states and the Federal Government, should unite in their cooperative effort to provide uniform zoning regulations that will prevent a heterogeneous and conflicting group of regulations producing confusion.

In fact, the Civil Aeronautics Authority has long since been conscious of the need for such zoning regulations, and it has been fully aware of the rights of local governments where the local airports are situated. Because of its technical knowledge of all of the aviation problems involved, it has been in a most advantageous position to draft such uniform regulations, and it has done so. It has no authority at the present time to bring these regulations into being, but it seeks the cooperation of local and state officials that it might place at their disposal its technical knowledge and the model ordinance which it has drafted.

From the practical point of view, this whole problem is far bigger than it might at first appear. Isolated local ordinances are not a solution to it. All authoritative officials in every community wherein lies an airport should seek to use the experience and knowledge of the CAA to eliminate the hazards that already exist and to prevent the development of other hazards in areas surrounding our airports.

The necessity for uniformity in zoning regulations cannot be overstressed. Some of the larger airlines operate in many states. At least one operates in 20 or more different states. If each state or each municipality were to follow solely its own inclinations in the adoption of the necessary ordinances (and particularly without full knowledge of the minimum requirements in such matters) the resulting confusion might possibly lead to an increase in hazards, rather than their elimination.

No one urges that owners of private property be put to heavy expense to eliminate hazards to civilian and military aviation. Under the terms of HR 1012 authority is given to make proper restitution to private individuals or corporations. Speedy action should be taken by Congress looking toward the establishment of this authority that the welter of detailed work involved in carrying such a program into effect might be accomplished with the least possible delay.

Congress has shown wisdom and foresight in its attention to aviation legislation. Many of the problems and difficulties which were blindly faced in meeting the issues of rail, steamboat and automobile transportation in the past, are being eliminated by the experiences gained in their solution. Aviation is such an all important rapidly growing and expanding industry, that obstacles to its extension should be eliminated in advance, at every possible opportunity. Today, one of these major problems is this question of airport zoning. The concerted cooperative consideration of it on the part of local and national officials having charge of the administration of civilian aviation policies will solve it once and for all.

This column was originally published in the May, 1943, issue of Flying including Industrial Aviation magazine, vol 32, no 5, pp 64, 165.
The original column includes a thumbnail portrait of the author.
The photo is not credited.