Airport Land Acquisition: Overview

The FAA Advisory Circular Land Acquisition and Relocation Assistance for Airport Improvement Program Assisted Projects (AC 150/5100-17) provides procedural guidance to airport sponsors to help them carry out their acquisition and relocation programs in conformance to the Uniform Act and the implementing regulations (49 CFR part 24). The Uniform Act prescribes procedures to ensure fair and consistent acquisition of real property for Federal programs and provides additional benefits and entitlements for persons who are displaced due to the acquisition of their owned or leased occupied property for an AIP-assisted project.

The following information generally describes the principle tasks and functions that comprise a land acquisition project. The above-mentioned AC provides detailed information and guidance on the regulatory requirements that pertain to each phase of a land acquisition project.

(See also the Land Project Checklist, which provides a typical description of the required tasks for an uncomplicated sponsor land project submitted for FAA AIP grant reimbursement.)

Project Prerequisites (AC 150/5100-17, Chapter 1)

Airports included in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS) are eligible to receive AIP grant funding. Specific projects at these airport become eligible for grant funding once they are included in the current FAA Airports Capital Improvement Plan (ACIP). The sponsor may consult the FAA project manager to confirm the planning status of a proposed project.

Conformance with the National Environmental Policy Act

As applicable, a proposed project must be evaluated for National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) conformance before any work for which Federal funding is anticipated begins. Documentation can range from a minor statement of compliance and conformance to a full environmental impact statement (EIS). The sponsor should consult the FAA project manager if there is any question about completion of the environmental assessments. A land acquisition project for noise compatibility must be included as an FAA-approved measure of the airport's Part 150 noise compatibility program.

Real Property Rights

On AIP-assisted projects, the sponsor must acquire real property rights of a nature and extent adequate for the construction, operation, and maintenance of the grant-assisted project. The sponsor should consult the FAA project manager to ensure adequate interest is acquired.

Exhibit "A" Property Map

The grant agreement with the FAA requires the airport sponsor to prepare and maintain a current Exhibit "A" property map of airport owned land. The Exhibit "A" indicates land acquired for noise mitigation purposes and redeveloped to airport use and/or aviation use as well as land not retained for airport use. Through the grant application and approval process, the FAA project manager will provide assistance and specific requirements for the development of Exhibit "A".

Appraisal (AC 150/5100-17, Chapter 2)

The sponsor must appraise the fair market value of the real property to be acquired before the initiation of negotiations with an owner. The property owner shall be given the opportunity to accompany the appraiser on the inspection of the property.

Appraiser Selection

The sponsor must establish qualification criteria that at a minimum ensure that the appraiser's competency is consistent with the level of difficulty of the appraisal assignment. When selecting appraisers and review appraisers, the sponsor must review the experience, education, training, and other qualifications and use only those professionals determined to be qualified. If the appraisal assignment is complex and/or high cost and a private-fee appraiser is hired to perform this appraisal, the appraiser must be certified under applicable state law.

Review of the Appraisal

A qualified review appraiser must review each appraisal to ensure conformance to applicable standards and FAA requirements. The review appraiser will approve the appraisal and the amount of the appraised fair market value of the property to be acquired. The airport sponsor should not confuse the appraisal review required by the Uniform Act with an administrative review that consists primarily of a desk check of factual data and information presented in an appraisal report. Rather, the appraisal review prescribed under the Uniform Act is a critical evaluation of the report in all respects — the principal purpose being an assessment of the validity and reasonableness of the final valuation conclusion. The ultimate intent of the review is to produce an adequately documented appraisal and a sound and valid recommendation for the amount of just compensation to be offered to the property owner.

Environmental Audit of Suspected Contaminated Property

Prior to the appraisal of any land that is to be acquired, including donated land, the sponsor should secure an environmental audit of suspected contaminated property and provide the results to the appraiser for inclusion in the appraisal report. Appraisers should be aware of and report to the sponsor, before completion of the appraisal, actual property conditions that exist at a site that may warrant further environmental investigation. The appraiser may not assume the property is free of contamination when conducting an appraisal.

Real Property Negotiations (AC 150/5100-17, Chapter 3)

Beginning Negotiations

Before initiating negotiations for the property, the sponsor must establish an amount that it believes is just compensation for the real property. The amount must not be less than the appraised fair market value approved by the review appraiser.

Promptly thereafter, the sponsor must make a written offer to acquire the property for the full amount believed to be just compensation. The Uniform Act defines the date that this written offer is presented as the initiation of negotiations. The initiation of negotiations typically establishes eligibility for relocation payments for displaced persons who were occupants on the property as of this date. The sponsor's negotiator is to personally contact each owner with the sponsor's written offer of "just compensation". Nonresident owners may be contacted by certified mail.

Negotiating with the Property Owner

The goal of negotiations is to secure an amicable purchase agreement with the property owner for the just compensation owed for the needed property. The airport must not undertake coercive measures to force agreement. Instead, the airport's negotiator must fully explain the airport offer and help the property owner fully evaluate the airport offer. Value information provided by the property owner must also be given due consideration in negotiations. If the property owner's information is creditable and/or the circumstances of the proposed acquisition change, the airport must update its offer of just compensation.

Settlement / Condemnation

Should negotiations fail to secure an agreement, an airport with eminent domain authority may proceed to take the needed property through condemnation. Airports also have discretion to enter administrative settlements where the public interest in a proposed settlement is apparent.

Possession of the Property

Once an agreement is reached, the airport must pay the agreed purchase price to the owner. In the case of condemnation, the airport deposits with the court, for the benefit of the owner, an amount not less than the approved appraisal before requiring possession of the needed property.

Relocation Assistance (AC 150/5100-17, Chapters 4 Through 7)

Sponsor Obligations

It is the sponsor's obligation under the Uniform Act to provide an adequate relocation assistance program that ensures the prompt and equitable relocation and reestablishment of persons displaced as a result of it's Federally assisted airport projects. [The term "person" as defined in the Uniform Act, and as used in this AC, refers to any individual (residential or business occupant), family, partnership, corporation, or association.] Sponsors must provide advisory assistance and conduct the relocation program so that displaced persons receive uniform and consistent services and payments regardless of race, color, sex, or national origin. The sponsor must maintain adequate documentation to evidence compliance to the Uniform Act and its grant assurances.

Types of Relocation Assistance

Relocation assistance activities involve relocation planning, information and notices, advisory services, relocation assistance payments (replacement housing payment, incidental closing costs, increased interest costs, residential moving costs, etc.), nonresidential (business, farms, nonprofit organizations) relocation payments (reestablishment expenses, moving costs), replacement housing of last resort, and mobile homes. The specific procedural requirements for the sponsor to provide the required assistance and payments are detailed in the AC.

Property Management (AC 150/5100-17, Chapter 8)

Property management activities include disposal or demolition of improvements, clearing of trees and vegetation, and interim use or rental of the property until needed for a subsequent construction project, if applicable.

Sponsor Certification (AC 150/5100-17, Chapter 9)

The sponsor must certify that real property was acquired in conformance with the Uniform Act. In addition, the sponsor must certify, as applicable, that all persons displaced from their homes for the project were offered comparable replacement housing and that all persons in occupancy at the initiation of negotiations had vacated the property and were provided reimbursement of their moving expenses to a replacement site in accordance with the requirements of the Uniform Act. This certification must be provided concurrently with a sponsor's request for reimbursement and shall cover the specific parcels for which the sponsor is requesting reimbursement of costs.

Certification may also be required for FAA grant approval for construction requiring the use of land previously acquired. As applicable, certification for construction operations must provide the status of possession and clearance of the acquired property to accommodate construction. Sponsor management with authority over the acquisition and relocation process must sign the certification statement (see AC 150/5100-17 for a sample certification statement).

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Last updated: Thursday, September 15, 2022