Avigation easements are also sometimes called aviation easements — which gives you a big hint to the term’s meaning. It has to do with air rights, and who is entitled to them. These types of restrictions are commonly found with properties near airports, and they define how close an aircraft may or may not come to a building, or which property lines it may or may not cross.

Avigation easement definition

There are all types of easements, which give the right to use designated parts of another person’s land for special circumstances, such as gaining access when necessary. Easements can be granted to organizations like utility companies, for example, so that they can maintain power or sewer lines.

An avigation easement is much the same, except it applies not to the land but to the area above the land, or airspace. “An aviation or avigation easement is a legal agreement in which property owners surrender air rights over their property to the government,” says Alex Capozzolo, co-founder of Brotherly Love Real Estate in Philadelphia. This type of easement restricts property owners from building over a specific height and waives their right to file a suit against the pilots or owners of an aircraft. It also limits the liability of airline/aircraft operators.

Avigation easements also dictate what actions are prohibited by the property owner, which includes anything that could interfere with the pilot or obstruct the movement of an aircraft. This applies to airspace and the area around an airport’s runway.

Avigation easement example

Here’s an example of avigation easement in action: Let’s say William and Jane own a home near an airport. They have a large pond on their land that attracts a lot of birds. The local government wants to expand the airport’s runway, and it needs that airspace free of obstructions to meet legal regulations regarding aircraft landings. The birds flocking to the couple’s pond could endanger an aircraft, so an avigation easement is obtained. An appraiser determines that the pond adds $250,000 to the home’s value, so the government tells William and Jane to remove the pond and, in return, compensates them for that amount.

Avigation and air rights

Generally, when you buy a piece of property, the air rights above the land itself are included in the purchase. One notable exception to this, though, is anything zoned near an airport. The Federal Aviation Administration came out with model zoning ordinances in 1987 to limit the height of objects around airports. Many counties and municipalities have since adopted this method of zoning around airports. If your real estate purchase does not include the air rights above your property, your real estate agent or attorney should definitely point it out to you.

Air rights may not seem problematic to most homebuyers, as you most likely don’t want to make your single-family home 10 stories tall. But it can be tricky, as seen in the example above, because many things can affect navigation. According to the FAA, something as simple as a holiday laser-light display can be dangerous to pilots.

Other common types of easements

There are three types of easements residential homebuyers or owners most commonly run into: utility, public and private.

A utility easement allows utility companies to access resources like electricity and water on your property. They are primarily used to repair and upgrade utility connections and to add connections for new users. An example would be if you have a water main at the end of your driveway — if the water main breaks, or if a newly built house needs to be connected to it, the water company would need access to your property to take care of it.

A public easement is when the public has the right to use certain parts of privately owned property, such as streets, highways or paths. How that is practically applied to each property can vary, but typically, it means people are allowed to walk or drive through your property to get to somewhere else.

In contrast, private easements are agreements between two individual property owners, and can be for pretty much any reason. A private easement can be relatively harmless, like giving your neighbor the right to use a sliver of your property for their driveway, or allowing them to use a path on your property that leads to a lake or the beach. However, it could also be something more bothersome that your property’s previous owner arranged. Be sure to do your due diligence when buying property so that you know and understand any easements that are in place.

Bottom line

An avigation easement typically means there is an airport nearby that is permitted to use the airspace above your property. If you don’t intend to build a taller house, cultivate a murder of crows or blow away all the neighbors with your holiday light display, it probably won’t affect you much. However, being close enough to the airport to need one means there will be planes flying overhead, so do your research — and check the flight schedules — before you buy.