Minnesota Flyer - Serving Midwest Aviation Since 1960

By John Fleming
Minnesota Department of Transportation Aeronautics 

Planning For Disaster: Take Action Through Local Zoning Ordinances

Land Use Compatibility Is A Key Issue


The successful landing of an aircraft isn’t usually something to write about, but in December, Minneapolis pilot Craig Gifford made his most noteworthy touchdown.

After an engine failure late on the night of Dec. 3, 2020, Gifford guided his Bellanca Viking down for an emergency landing on Interstate 35W. Luckily, no one was injured.

Traffic cameras captured the event and Gifford received his 15 minutes of fame.

While the interstate is not the best place to land, it certainly isn’t the worst. According to the NTSB database, 62% of general aviation crashes occur during take-off and landing. It’s not possible to prevent all crashes, but airports and their controlling authorities can take steps to mitigate their consequences.

Airports generally do a good job maintaining open space on the property they own, but there are additional measures that can be taken to influence development in the proximity of the airport. Land use zoning for areas beneath the approach to a runway can prevent unsafe conditions. If a crash occurs, it’s preferable for it to occur in a farm field than a hospital, for example. Minimum lot sizes are a common regulation in all residential areas, and larger lot size requirements can drastically increase the total amount of open space available in a residential area.

One of the most important activities of MnDOT Aeronautics is advising local governments on land use compatibility issues. MnDOT Aeronautics has developed a standard zoning ordinance which balances the benefits of aviation safety with social and

economic costs to local communities of restricting land uses. Custom zoning ordinances designed with the unique characteristics of the airport and the surrounding community in mind are also an option.

If you are a Minnesota pilot, find out it if your airport has zoning in place to protect your life, and the lives of those on the ground. If you are a pilot from another state, see if the local municipality considers aviation safety in their long-range plans. Pilots from both groups can support their local airport by showing up or submitting comments to the planning commission or zoning board and explaining to non- pilots the importance of open space to aviation safety.


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