June 26, 2014 at 9:17 pm

Smaller buildings urged near airports

Fed plan for tougher height limits on structures draws fire

In this Sept. 3, 2007, file photo, a twisted reflection of a passenger jet is reflected in the mirrored windows of an office building as it lands at Washington's Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Va. The government wants to dramatically reduce the height limits of buildings near hundreds of airports, but the proposal is drawing fire from real estate developers, local business leaders and members of Congress who say it will reduce property values. (J. David Ake / AP, file)

Washington— The government wants to dramatically reduce the allowable height of buildings near hundreds of airports — a proposal that is drawing fire from real estate developers and members of Congress who say it will reduce property values.

The Federal Aviation Administration proposal, supported by airports and airlines, is driven by encroaching development that limits safe flight paths for planes that might lose power in an engine during takeoff. Planes can fly with only one engine, but they have less power to climb quickly over obstacles.

Airlines have to plan for the possibility that a plane could lose the use of an engine during takeoff even though that doesn’t happen very often. As more buildings, cellphone towers, wind turbines and other tall structures go up near airports, there are fewer safe flight paths available. Current regulations effectively limit building heights based on the amount of clearance needed by planes with two operating engines.

Airports worry that the problem could cost airlines enough money that they’ll find some routes unprofitable and eliminate service, Oswald said.

The FAA’s proposal would change the way the agency assesses proposals to build new structures or modify existing structures near 388 airports to take into account the hazard that would be created to one-engine takeoffs.

For example, under the proposal a building located 10,000 feet from the end of a runway would have a maximum allowable height of 160 feet instead of the current limit of 250 feet, according to an analysis by the Weitzman Group, a New York real estate consulting firm.

As the distance from an airport increases, the allowable building height increases as well. The proposal could affect buildings as far as 10 miles from an airport.