Airport Land Use Planning

The Division of Aeronautics publishes the California Airport Land Use Planning Handbook (Handbook), which establishes statewide guidelines for airport land use compatible planning based on the State Aeronautics Act.

Responsible Land Use Planning

When making land use decisions, it is important that the type and density of land use and its cumulative impacts are given careful consideration so that appropriate decisions are made for the airport, its context, and its environment. Acknowledging this need, in 1967 the California State Legislature authorized the creation of Airport Land Use Commissions (ALUC), to protect the “public health, safety, and welfare by encouraging orderly expansion of airports and the adoption of land use measures that minimizes exposure to excessive noise and safety hazards within areas around public airports to the extent that these areas are not already devoted to incompatible uses.” Generally speaking, ALUCPs look at an area two-miles around an airport.

The law requires each county’s ALUC type to prepare an Airport Land Use Compatibility Plan (ALUCP) with a twenty-year planning horizon. Ideally, the ALUCP should be updated every 5-10 years to ensure consistency with General Plans, Specific Plans, etc. The primary focus of an ALUCP is on broadly defined noise and safety impacts. In addition, ALUCs make compatibility determinations for compliance of all proposed development around an airport. A local government body may override an ALUC compatibility determination for any proposed incompatible land use by a two-thirds majority vote; however, they must notify the Division of Aeronautics and the ALUC of this intent 45 days prior to approving the override. The Division would then respond within 30-days to the local agency’s overrule comments.

Ground and Airspace Safety

A fundamental concern in achieving airport land use compatibility involves safety in the air and within the vicinity of the airport. Aircraft accidents happen infrequently, but the consequences can be severe. The concept of risk is central to the assessment of safety compatibility. The overall objective of safety compatibility is to minimize risks associated with potential aircraft accidents. There are two components to this strategy - safety of people and property on the ground and the protection of navigable airspace from hazardous obstructions to ensure the safety of aircraft occupants. The primary ground strategy is to limit the intensity of use by minimizing residential and non-residential densities and activities that attract people in locations most susceptible to an off-airport aircraft accident. Certain risk-sensitive uses, such as schools and hospitals, and aboveground storage of flammable or hazardous materials, should be avoided regardless of the number of people involved.

For additional information on federal regulations regarding airspace safety, refer to: Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) Part 77 and the California Public Utilities Code Sections 21658 and 21659.

Aviation Noise

Aircraft generated noise is one of the most basic airport land use compatibility concerns and can be perceived to be the most significant of the adverse impacts associated with an airport. Aircraft noise, usually the most geographically extensive form of an airport impact, is dependent on a number of attributes, including the aircraft type, timing, and frequency of flights. Addressing aircraft noise and its cumulative impacts requires continual corroboration and coordination among pilots, airport operators, Federal Aviation Administration, Division of Aeronautics, Airport Land Use Commissions, local governments, and other constituents.

Many people can be sensitive to aircraft noise even if it is barely audible above the quiet, ambient noise level. The basic strategy for achieving noise compatibility within an airport’s vicinity is to limit development of land uses that are particularly sensitive to noise. The most acceptable land uses for areas exposed to significant levels of aircraft noise are ones that either involve few people or generate significant noise levels themselves (such as industrial uses).

Airport Land Use Planning Reference Documents

An Airport Master Plan is a 20-year comprehensive study of an airport that describes the short, medium, and long-term development plans of an airport property and its facilities, recommended for update by the airport sponsor every 5-10 years. Depending on the size, function, issues, and role of the individual airport, the study will vary in complexity and detail. To be eligible for federal Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funds, and subsequently for State AIP Matching Grant eligibility (CA Public Utility Code (PUC) 4067(d)), the airport master plan includes an FAA approved Airport Layout Plan with proposed project(s) depicted. Every even year, airport sponsors should provide to the State an updated 10-year Airport Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). The Division of Aeronautics must compile and submit an updated CIP to the California Transportation Commission for approval before projects are considered for State funding.

An Airport Layout Plan (ALP) is a drawing, or set of drawings, that provide(s) a graphic representation of the current conditions and the future long-term planned development for an airport — a minimum requirement for airports to receive federal assistance. A narrative report and pertinent layout sketches should accompany the ALP explaining and documenting proposed items of development, rationale for unusual design features and/or modifications to Federal Aviation Administration Airport Design Standards. Below is an example of an Airport Layout Plan depicting the airport’s layout including both present infrastructure and proposed development.

An Airport Land Use Compatibility Plan (ALUCP) provides for the orderly growth of an airport and the area surrounding the airport within the jurisdiction of the Airport Land Use Commission (ALUC), excluding existing land uses. Its primary function is to safeguard the general welfare of the inhabitants within the vicinity of the airport and the public in general. This is generally accomplished by examining land uses within specific airport safety zones.

To be effective, the Division strongly encourages a periodic review of all of the Airport Master Plan, Airport Layout Plan, and the Airport Land Use Compatibility Plan documents to ensure that they remain current and consistent with changes in state laws, local land uses, and airport development and activity. Ideally, they would be prepared in concert with each other.

California Airport Land Use Planning (PDF)

Table of Contents

Introduction to the California Airport Land Use Planning Handbook
i-1 Enabling Legislation
i-2 Applicability
i-3 Background
i-4 The Goal of Airport Land Use Compatibility
i-5 Basic Elements of Airport - Land Use Compatibility
1.Airport Land Use Commissions
1.1 Purpose and Authority of Airport Land Use Commissions
1.2 ALUC Formation Choices
1.3 ALUC Compatibility Planning Process Overview
1.4 ALUC Statutory Requirements and Options
2.Airport Land Use Compatibility Plans
2.1 Purpose of Airport Land Use Compatibility Plans
2.2 Basic Scope of ALUCPs
2.3 ALUCP Contents
2.4 ALUCP Adoption Process
2.5 ALUCP Consistency Reviews
3.Building an Airport Land Use Compatibility Plan
3.1 Overview
3.2 Types of Compatibility Concerns
3.3 Compatibility Criteria Tables and Maps
3.4 Compatibility Planning for Specific Airport Types
3.5 Accounting for Existing Development
3.6 Limits on Land Use Restrictions 
3.7 Procedural Issues
4.Developing Airport Land Use Compatibility Policies
4.1 Overview
4.2 Noise
4.3 Overflight
4.4 Safety
4.5 Airspace Protection
4.6 Other Compatibility Policy Considerations
5.Responsibilities of Local Agencies
5.1 Overview
5.2 Local Plans Consistency with ALUCP
5.3 Submitting Projects for Review
5.4 Compatibility Planning in Counties without ALUCs
5.5 Overruling ALUC Decisions
5.6 Role of Airport Proprietors
6.ALUC Review of Local Actions
6.1 Overview
6.2 ALUC Review Requirements
6.3 Procedural Considerations
6.4 Substance of Reviews
6.5 Judicial Action


A. State Laws Related to Airport Land Use Planning
B. Federal Aviation Regulations Part 77
C. Next Generation Air Transportation System
D. Measuring Airport Noise and its Effect on People
E. Aircraft Accident Characteristics
F. Risk Concepts
G. Methods for Determining Concentrations of People
H. Sample ALUC Documents
I. Sample CEQA Initial Study Checklist
J. Checklist for Commissioners
K. Reference Documents
L. Glossary of Terms
M. Index

List of Figures

3A. Safety Compatibility Zone Examples - General Aviation Runways
3B. Safety Compatibility Zone Examples - Large Air Carrier and Military Runways
3C. Example of Civil Airport Airspace Protection Surfaces - Far Part 77
4A. Typical Noise Levels in Various Communities
4B. Safety Zone 1 - Runway Protection Zone
4C. Safety Zone 2 - Inner Approach/Departure Zone
4D. Safety Zone 3 - Inner Turning Zone
4E. Safety Zone 4 - Outer Approach/Departure Zone
4F. Safety Zone 5 - Sideline Zone
4G. Safety Zone 6 - Traffic Pattern Zone
4H. Separation Distances within Which Hazardous Wildlife Attractants Should Be Avoided, Eliminated, or Mitigated

List of Tables

1A. ALUC Formation Choices by Statute
1B. ALUC Formation Survey
1C. ALUC Formation Survey Totals 
2A. Checklist of ALUCP Contents 
3A. Safety Zone Adjustment Factors (Airport Operational Variables)  
3B. Analysis of Safety Zone Examples (General Aviation Runways) 
4A. Adjustment Factors for Obtaining Normalized CNEL
4B. Noise Compatibility Criteria Alternatives (New Residential Land Uses) 
4C. Noise Compatibility Summary 
4D. Overflight Compatibility Summary
4E. Average Intensities for Nonresidential Uses
4F. Safety Compatibility Summary
4G. Airspace Protection Compatibility Summary 
5A. General Plan Consistency Checklist
5B. Possible Airport Combining Zone Components