Is avigation answer to aggravation over aviation routes?
"Contractual right or a property interest in land over which a right of unobstructed flight in the airspace is established'
COTTONWOOD – A recent donation from a local business to the City of Cottonwood involved a term not commonly used in planning and zoning contexts — or hardly anywhere else, outside of the real estate or aviation circles.
Avigation easements, according to the city’s Cottonwood Airport glossary, is a “contractual right or a property interest in land over which a right of unobstructed flight in the airspace is established.”
Depending on who an attorney represents, this right might be described as either as one of many disclaimer that let potential property buyers know one potential pitfall that aircrafts fly overhead, preventing future legal action, or a license to drop noise, soot, leaking fuel or other fluids or disruptive shockwaves down onto a property or community, forevermore.
Morgan Scott, project manager for the City of Cottonwood, hopes a recently donated property isn’t at either of those extremes.
Backus Family Investments, LLC, recently donated an easement from tract of land from a lot in the Replat of Cottonwood Airpark. This means the easement for the airport’s right to fly over the tract is being given by Backus to the city, free of charge, with the hopes that there won’t be any haggling over airspace in the future — at least, not regarding anyone occupying or using that tract of land.
“Avigation easements have been around for 50 years,” Scott said. “But these have been talked about, more and more, as more development has taken place near airports, or as airports or their traffic expand.”
Scott says the Federal Aviation Administration handles all air traffic rules in the air, and many of the regulations involving aircrafts that are still on the ground. The FAA also funds and regulates 90 percent of the infrastructure at small airports, such as runways, buildings and lighting as sort of a tradeoff.
Local code and law enforcement has no jurisdiction over any airborne manned aircraft, Scott said — that’s all handled by the FAA.
The best a municipality can do, he said, is to ensure developers and potential home or business land owners know there’s an airport in the area, that the property of interest has aircraft flying overhead, and that the current owner of the property has already agreed to the arrangement.
Also at last week’s meeting, the Council accepted an easement from Jane Tavasci for three lots along Black Hills Drive, where construction of a home on at least one of the lots has already been completed. This was also done at no charge to the city; it allows Tavasci to market the three lots with an agreement in place and full disclosure to potential buyers that aircraft have complete flyover rights.
Those three lots sit to the north and slightly to the west of the airport; Scott said the pattern is for pilots of fixed-wing aircraft tend to take off heading north, but then veering to the right, or east, away from Mingus Mountain.
Cottonwood City Manager Ron Corbin said the standing verbal request is for all aircraft to climb quickly and avoid flying low over buildings however possible, but there is nothing in writing addressing that element.
Corbin also said aeronautical schools in the Prescott area, which send students to the Cottonwood Airport for training, have been asked to send small groups only, such as two trainees at a time.
The area south and west of the airport is zoned for commercial use; Scott said there are no plans to attempt to change that zoning.
“We’d really like to keep that commercial,” he said.
Scott said small airports such as Cottonwood sometimes get slightly busier when another area airport is undergoing maintenance of construction work, as was the case for Prescott Regional Airport for a brief time last August.
However, he said, traffic between neighboring small airports tends to be minimal. For example, despite Prescott bing among the top 40 busiest airports in the U.S., with more than 250,000 combined annual takeoffs and landings, only about 1 percent of those flights involve Cottonwood.
“Small airports are usually used either for specific training there, by people who live or house an aircraft on-site, or by someone who specifically wants to visit that city,” Scott said.
Cottonwood has about 50 operations (takeoffs and landings combined) per day, or about 18,250 per year — fewer than one-tenth the amount of Prescott’s traffic.
A City of Prescott Planning and Zoning Commission earlier issued recommendations last year to its City Council on a particular proposed development, and included airport avigation easements on a long list of its recommendations.
Scott said a Cottonwood Airport master-plan process is beginning, and public meetings about the plan will be announced and held in the months ahead.
Scott said he isn’t aware of any recent complaints about airport noise specific to jets. Cottonwood Airport has enough runway space for the smallest types of jets, he said.
However, there have been 51 complaints called into the city about airport noise since March 2018, Scott said.
“The highway (89A) garners noise complaints in the area, yet the airport doesn’t,” he said.