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(this seems to be primarily a US phenomenon)

So in the vicinity of my parents' place (in a rural area in Indiana), there are several registered airports within several miles' radius. I remember when I was a kid, there were a few farmers in the area who liked to fly ultralights, and I wonder if some of these might be for that. And some of these are listed as having certain aircraft based there. For many of them, however, looking at their fields on Google Maps there is nothing to indicate that it is ever used for anything but growing crops--in some places there is no obstacle-free area even reasonably close to the listed runway dimensions.

What's going on here?

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  • $\begingroup$ tax reduction/fraud maybe. $\endgroup$ – ratchet freak Aug 13 '15 at 18:13
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    $\begingroup$ @mins Yes, you need to involve the FAA. Your airport information will be added to the A/FD, etc. Here's an example. $\endgroup$ – reirab Aug 13 '15 at 18:38
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    $\begingroup$ @ratchetfreak I highly doubt that taxes on a farm can be higher than an airport. $\endgroup$ – Farhan Aug 13 '15 at 19:21
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    $\begingroup$ @Farhan You're assuming that tax laws are logical. That's a bad assumption. Still, though, I agree that that's not likely the reason. $\endgroup$ – reirab Aug 13 '15 at 19:22
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    $\begingroup$ A lot of farmers will fly to inspect their crops. Whether they're using an ultra light or small SEL, I believe that they need to have their "airport" registered. There's one near me (I believe it's decommissioned now) that was nothing more than grass between fields. $\endgroup$ – FreeMan Aug 13 '15 at 21:02
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Just spoke to the farmer that owns Graham Farms Airport (SN72), a grass strip in a cornfield near the sprawling metropolis of Harris, Kansas. Here it is on the sectional:

Google Earth

And Google Earth: Google Earth

He has a Cessna 182 there. He told me he had it registered as an airport back in the 1970's, like Dave said, in case someone had an engine failure or something, atc could vector them there. He also occasionally allows people from nearby Garnett Municipal Airport (K68) to practice grass strip landings there.

He got an unexpected benefit from having it registered with the FAA several years back when the power company was planning to run a high tension line right across his landing strip. The power company refused to work with him on it so he called the FAA. Since it is officially an airport federal regulations forced them to run their line around it.

Picture showing power line path

Aviation trumps power company profits!

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    $\begingroup$ Happy ending to that story! :) $\endgroup$ – curious_cat Aug 29 '15 at 3:55
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    $\begingroup$ Sounds like a great reason to have your airstrip registered! Keeps the ugly transmission lines away. $\endgroup$ – FreeMan Aug 31 '15 at 12:30
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    $\begingroup$ @FreeMan -- not just ugly, hazardous! Power lines are the bane of cropduster and helo pilots... $\endgroup$ – UnrecognizedFallingObject Dec 4 '15 at 23:37
  • $\begingroup$ It is always interesting to read real stories. Thanks for asking and writing this up! $\endgroup$ – user9394 Mar 28 '17 at 2:50
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Private airfields are not at all uncommon in the U.S., especially the rural parts (which is most of the U.S.) These are probably for crop dusting or because the owner also happens to be a private pilot and wants to keep their plane at home rather than paying the local FBO for hangar or tie-down rental. Of the ones I've seen, though, the markings vary from very simple (old tires painted white placed along the edges) to non-existent. Sometimes smaller ones can be hard to see on Google Maps, but, at least in my experience, you can usually find them if you look hard enough. They're probably easier to spot in places with a lot of trees rather than in places where the land is predominately wide-open farmland.

Here's an example of what it looks like on a Sectional Chart and on Google Maps:

Sectional Chart Showing Private Airfields
One Grand Field on a Sectional Chart

One Grand Field (yes, it's really a field.)
One Grand Field (yes, it's literally a field) on Google Maps. The long, narrow clearing in the trees is the grass runway.

To give an idea of just how common these things can be, take a look at this sectional chart clip:

Atlanta North Sectional Chart showing lots of private airfields

There are no less than 12 private airports here within a roughly 25 nmi x 25 nmi area, despite having two nearby decent-sized public uncontrolled airfields (one of which is home to a large flight training school,) and a class D airport (with a busy-ish Class C visible in the Northwest corner of the clip.)

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They may have crop-dusters that they fly in and out of their own fields like this one. If the crops need dusting often and there is no airport nearby it may be cheaper and easier to fly from their own fields rather than spend the gas getting back and forth to a local field.

Here is a great little article that may give you some info. As to why they have them on the chart the article states,

So, if private airports are so private, why do their owners choose to have them depicted on sectional charts? Again, the reasons vary, but most owners seem to be motivated by altruism. Pilots want other pilots to have options when they fly, especially in the event of an emergency.

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ Some do it even when there is an airport nearby. Note the example in my answer. It's about 2 miles from an actual public airport with a 6,700 ft. runway. $\endgroup$ – reirab Aug 13 '15 at 18:45
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    $\begingroup$ @reirab Unless your emergency really needed a 6,700 ft runway and all the facilities and services that go along with it, you would probably have quite a lot of explaining to do if you disrupted commercial operations to land your microlight in an emergency, even if what you did was "legal" in terms of the regulations. (There are people still alive who have stories to tell about the time they landed their Tiger Moth at London Heathrow because they were low on fuel, put 5 gallons in the tank, paid in cash, and continued their flight, but not any more.....) $\endgroup$ – alephzero Aug 13 '15 at 19:58
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    $\begingroup$ @alephzero Regarding emergencies, though, it's generally better to have explaining to do than to not be alive to explain. And you will actually have more explaining to do if you land at a private airfield that isn't yours than if you land at a large, public-use airport. Still, though, that's much better than not being alive to explain. While pilots should generally be polite, if a light aircraft is in a fuel emergency and needs a runway that a 747 is currently lined up on, you can bet that that 747 is going around 100% of the time. Emergency aircraft always take precedence. $\endgroup$ – reirab Aug 13 '15 at 20:27
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    $\begingroup$ Also: another reason to chart 'em -- it gives other pilots operating in the area a clue that they have to look out for airplanes operating in the vicinity of those airports, and that there's a traffic pattern there they shouldn't bore through willy-nilly. $\endgroup$ – UnrecognizedFallingObject Aug 13 '15 at 23:27
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    $\begingroup$ @DanNeely No they can't go that slow, but an A10 Thunderbolt does very nicely as interceptor in such a case. And you can always send up a few Apache helicopters. They are probably doing surveillance in the neighborhood anyway when AF1 comes to visit ;-) $\endgroup$ – Tonny Aug 14 '15 at 11:44
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I have considered registering my grass strip, as it establishes prior use, and should there be zoning changes, it would be grandfathered. Of course there are other ways of documenting that use, in the public record.

The power company story is also a good reason to have established prior use.

With wind turbines going up all over the place, it might provide some level of protection in terms of protection of an approach and departure path.

Addendum: There is a downside for registration and publication on a map, and that is when someone decides to use your strip, and has a problem. A local public use grass strip ran into that, and the owner did not have it properly insured as a public use airport. The financial consequences are not clear yet, but the headache is not one I would invite.

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