Possible New Building Height Limits Near U.S. Airports Irks Arizona Leaders

August 15, 2014

(Photo by Al Macias-KJZZ)
An airplane taking off from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.

The Federal Aviation Administration wants to impose a big reduction to building height maximums near more than 375 U.S. airports, including Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, a proposal that's unnerving to business and political leaders in Arizona and across the country.

The issue stems from increasing enchroachment on airports over the past several decades. If an airplane’s engine fails at takeoff, it needs enough room to keep climbing safely. But with so much real estate surrounding airports these days, it's harder and more expensive for airlines to take safety precautions, according to the FAA.

Thus, the agency is considering a drastic reduction to how tall buildings can be within 10,000 feet of a runway. It could drop the current maximum height from 250 feet by as much as 35 percent, or 160 feet, which is roughly about nine stories tall.

This possible change, which has been in discussion for about two years, has irked many developers and property owners.

"It penalizes unfairly communities surrounding airports by impeding much-needed economic development and it also lacks rigorous cost-benefit analysis,” said Tim Lawless, president of the Arizona chapter of NAIOP, an organization that represents commercial property owners.

Lawless said the FAA's proposal could throw a wrench in thousands of future projects nationwide, including some in downtown Tempe and at Papago Park. Existing buildings could also see insurance costs go up and even property values go down.

The FAA ended a few months of public comments at the end of July. An agency spokesman said it hasn’t yet been determined what or when the next step will be.

Meanwhile, two Arizona Congressmen, Reps. David Schweikert and Matt Salmon, have co-sponsored a bill that would require the FAA to conduct a more extensive review before implementing any formal changes.