3 Things Every Pilot Needs to Know About… Airport Fences: Good or Bad, A Barrier

Fences surround airports; maybe you’ve noticed this trend over the past 10, 15, maybe even 20 years. As we as a population become more aware of security and potential threats, physical barriers are added to life in the name of protecting us. Some people view these security measures as unnecessary barriers and headaches, while other accept the measures and deal with them.

You can put me in the category of wanting to go through Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening at the big airport. Yeah, you read that right… I know the process is flawed and there are issues, but if you have the ability to add a layer of safety, why wouldn’t you? Exactly…

Anyways, back to general aviation and airport fences… I remember as a young kid my father would take me to different airports to watch planes (usually Norwood, MA or Taunton, MA) taking off and landing. I’ll bet if you asked him after paying for my private pilot license if he would have skipped the airport a couple times when I was very young he might say so, but I’m glad we made all those trips on our explorations.

While all those years ago we would sit and watch planes and often there was either no fence or there would be a fence but it would be a short 4-foot fence, just to prevent children (like me) from running out onto the ramp and into a place where we could be in danger. Fast-forward more than 20 years and now almost every airport is surrounded by 8-10 foot fences with three strands of barbed wire strung at the top. Are we at an airport or a prison you might ask… If your airport doesn’t have a fence, it wouldn’t shock me if one was in the plans or on the way during the next few years.

Growing up working at a general aviation airport (Mansfield Municipal, 1B9) I took the fences for granted, they were there and there wasn’t anything you could do about it… But that doesn’t stop a lot of pilots from complaining about the “unnecessary”, “pointless” & “useless” waste of money that an airfield fence is. Keep in mind I say this as a fellow pilot, not someone working in airport management, GET OVER IT!

Seriously, the fences are here to stay, deal with it. If all you have to complain about is the fence protecting your airport and your airplane then I think you have it good enough to not need to complain. If you don’t fall into that group then I’m sure there is something more important that you could spend your time concerned with besides a fence protecting your airplane! Here are three reasons why general aviation pilots should find something else to complain about:

  1. Fences serve as a barrier to protect the airfield assets.

Fences keep honest people honest… If a person has real nefarious intentions then it is highly likely a chain-link fence will only serve to slow them down. But, that means that it will take longer to complete whatever nefarious activity they set out to commit. As a result, there is a greater chance they will get caught or possibly even ‘spooked’ away.

Moreover, fences provide enough of a barrier to stop individuals who are aimless and don’t have nefarious intentions but have a lack of motivation to go elsewhere to cause trouble. Essentially dealing with the fence and barbed wire is too much of a hassle for these individuals looking for the “low hanging fruit” type of trouble to cause. It’s much easier to go tip over some trash containers into a yard than to get through a security fence and trash an airplane at the local airport.

filling up

A fence is a physical barrier, separating the AOA from those who knowingly & unknowingly do not belong there. This picture is a perfect example. Cars & aircraft can park side by side, with a fence separating them. The same fence that prevents the children enjoying the aviation-themed playground from running out amongst the aircraft, where a spinning propeller would be an invisible danger to them…

 

On another note, as I highlighted earlier, the fence will keep those who don’t know any better out of the Airport Operations Area (AOA). This means everyone from nosey tourists to children who could inadvertently walk into/break a pitot tube, rudder, etc… At an extreme level, the fence will prevent children from running into a spinning propeller, which would be the worst possible scenario.

  1. Fences make aviation prestigious.*

Many pilots complain that the fence keep people away are correct. If someone sees a fence then they are likely to turn away as they will likely not want to be seen as doing something wrong by trying to get inside the fence incorrectly… This is something that we are getting wrong in aviation. Look at neighborhoods and communities. Gated communities are viewed as desirable and prestigious. Airports can do the same thing, it’s literally the positioning that we have wrong as an industry. The airport is a really “neat” place where exciting things are happening and that deserves to be exclusive!

pic

Fences, if positioned correctly, can be used to show the “prestige” of aviation… $10, $10 million jets should be separated from every day life. Yet close enough to (almost) touch, to encourage the younger generations to desire a future in aviation!

 

If aviation wants to be successful we need to embrace this feeling. Naysayers will say this is similar to trying to be a country club and being “snooty”… Well yes, and no. Why do you think the country club has nice plush green fairways while the public course has fairways that could be mistaken for sand traps at the private course? If we educate the public that the uniqueness of an airport requires a fence and that is the same reason why they should come and be a part of the airport then we can use the security fence to our advantage. Imagine that, by thinking slightly differently we can take something we now consider a disadvantage and a barrier keeping people away from aviation and turn the fence into our advantage!

  1. Fences keep wildlife away.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly these fences do have a role in protecting our level of safety while flying. A good fence will keep wildlife, specifically deer and coyotes away from the runways and taxiways. Have you ever seen a car after it hits a deer on a highway? The deer usually loses that battle, but I’d have a hard time saying the car is the winner very often… Keep in mind cars are designed to be able to run into things, or at least provide a level of safety when they do (or when things hit them). Airplanes on the other hand are designed to fly as effectively and efficiently as possible, not (specifically) to withstand a major wildlife strike.

The same physical barrier that keeps the individual with malicious intentions in the parking lot and not on the ramp keeps deer in the forest and out of the AOA. Again, pilots will say deer have always existed. Again, these naysayers about the airport fence are correct, kind of… The deer population has been skyrocketing throughout the 1900’s and since. The population of deer has continued a distinct increase over the past 20 years. Thus, there may not have been a lot of deer issues years ago before airports were completely fenced in, but there are a lot more deer now, which means the chances are a lot higher of wildlife strikes than they would have been before.

To wrap this up I’ll just say that I understand fences cause people to avoid the airport, but that isn’t because fences have a bad wrap… Ever notice how many people willingly install fences in their own yards? The reason airfield fences keep people away from aviation is the reputation WE give them. The FAA has invested a lot of money in them and I don’t expect them to spend a lot more to rip them down and remove them. So let’s embrace the fences and go out and try to actually use them to our advantage. It’s a challenge, sure; can you handle it? Lastly, change is a reality, and the only thing that doesn’t change is the fact that change is a constant. So, just because fences didn’t use to exist, doesn’t mean we should not have them now…

-Fly Safe, @MTElia1B9

 

 

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4 thoughts on “3 Things Every Pilot Needs to Know About… Airport Fences: Good or Bad, A Barrier

  1. First of all, I like fences because they do tend to keep stray people from climbing on my plane when I’m not there; the top of the wings of my low-wing plane are just made of fancy aluminum foil and a foot not on the wingwalk could do a lot of damage.

    I like the idea of being able to park my car on the field but out of the way and most of the other people on the ramp won’t bother it. Sure, those guys with the Bonanza eye it from time to time but I think they just want to wash it.

    I like the idea that some kid in a pickup won’t drive onto the ramp and siphon out some of my $6/gallon gas to make their truck go faster. (It won’t, by the way; just make it run hotter.)

    I like the idea that some kid in a pickup won’t drive onto the ramp and hit my plane accidentally.

    I like the idea that some kid won’t jump out of his pickup and walk into my propeller – the very thought makes me sick. You’re waiting for some joke about needing a propeller or engine teardown. No. No joke. Please, please stay away from my propeller.

    I like the idea that the only people wondering around on the ramp are either known to most of us on the ramp or in the office or we just ask them where they’re from. Most of the time they point to their planes parked at the gas pump or mechanic’s shop and that takes care of it. (Sure, sometimes you get some indignant, arrogant asshole from Cirrusville who doesn’t think it’s any of my business, but I have a cellphone and the phone number of the airport office and the local police. You’re right, sir, you don’t have to tell me anything.)

    Do not let Homeland Security read this part: Sometimes, I’ll see some guy with a couple of his kids out of a bike ride, staring through the fence. Well, I march right over to them and demand to know if they’d like to visit my airplane. Then, I ask them if they are terrorists. Then, after warning them not to touch anything, hold hands and never admit they were there, I take them through the special ‘Pilot’s Only’ gate and over to my plane. Sometimes I ‘let’ them wax it, sometimes they get to take the cover off and fold it neatly, sometimes I tell them the Bonanza is mine and it’s ok to get fingerprints on it.

    The idea that fences keep out terrorists is, well, stupid. The idea that a terrorists could to a lot of damage with most of the planes on the ramp is, well, stupider; but the point is made, I’m largely in favor of gates to the point that my plane being at an airport without a fence seems a little odd.

  2. Matt,

    You should have added one more type of fence, the one that crosses runways (due as I understand it to a neighbors property dispute) such as the one across Plum Island’s (2B2) 28 approach end. While clearly marked with X’s and a lengthy displaced threshold, it can be a little disconcerting for the first time visitor. Check it out on Google maps.

    Another good reason to learn as much as possible about unfamiliar airports.

    Tom

  3. This is an aspect of airports, especially smaller community ones, that doesn’t get very much discussion. But you bring up some good points. In particular, I agree that airport fences are a necessary barrier, to keep people and wildlife from being able to wander onto the runway. When a pilot is taking off or landing, they definitely don’t need the added potential of a runway plane strike. And with many of these smaller airports located in areas where there’s a little more wildlife, this is a very valid concern.

  4. I’m with you guys. I also WANT to go through security before I board an airliner. If it takes a little time because they’re actually looking at the contents of each bag, all the better. Security – from those who’d do us harm, damage airplanes, steal from others, or simply wander into harm’s way (deer, kangaroos, small children, etc) – is a good thing.

    More importantly, I applaud Randy001’s extra effort to invite people who clearly love planes to come and interact with his. Because that’s my major beef with airport fencing. Whatever the good reason’s for a fence, it’s incredibly hard to reach out through chain link and razor wire.

    It’s easy for pilots to live in a camaraderie of their shared skills and experiences; one that others can find hard to crack. So putting ourselves into what looks like a high-security gated community to the rest of the world could be even more alienating.

    This is a passionate platform of mine. You only need to consider how many people turn up to a typical air show to know that the whole community doesn’t hate aviation. Because without that kind of witness, it would be easy to believe that most people resented the land use, noise, fuel consumption, leaded gas… you name it.

    General Aviation needs all the friends it can get – and we need to extend our definition of “aviation community” through the wire. Aviation fans, photographers, and kids and their dads are all solid supporters of GA.

    I’d like to think we can seek out ways to combine fencing with a welcome for those want to see more aviation but don’t actually fly (yet). We should encourage airport operators to include good, even great, viewing areas where photographers and families can get a decent view of the thing we all love. How about shelter, seating and tables, play equipment, even a photography platform?

    Older pilots reminisce fondly about the olden days, when viewing areas opened directly onto the ramp. I remember getting a good faceful of the noises, smells and sights of my local airports. It was certainly the foundation on which I built my desire to fly.

    We have to be careful that an impossible dream of air-tight security doesn’t cut GA off from its biggest fans and its future participants.

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