What We Do
The Division of Aeronautics’ Office of Airports is responsible for airport permitting and inspection, and other matters related to airports and aviation in the State of California. We work with federal, State, and local agencies; airport owners, managers, and consultants; and members of the public.
- Conduct public-use airport safety and permit compliance inspections.
- Under Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) contract, conduct inspections and update Airport Master Records (FAA Form 5010) for specified (non-Part 139) public use airports.
- Review and assess new, amended, and corrected airport permit applications, including plans check/approval, site visits, final permit inspections, and issuing of permits.
- Work with federal, State, and local agencies on facility, airspace, and other aviation matters.
- Assist and guide current and prospective airport owners, managers, and consultants with permitting, regulatory, and other aviation issues.
- Respond to State aeronautics-related requests and questions from the public.
Airport Permitting Overview
As a general rule, it is unlawful to operate an airport in the State of California without a State Airport Permit. State Airport Permit requirements are promulgated in the California Public Utilities Code (PUC), Section 21001 et seq., otherwise known as the State Aeronautics Act, and the California Code of Regulations (CCR), Title 21, Sections 3525-3560, Airports and Heliports. The following resources are intended to provide permitting guidelines, exemptions, and the procedures necessary to obtain and maintain a State Airport Permit for an airport in the State of California.
Permit Enacting Statute – PUC 21663
Operation Without Permit, PUC 21663. It is unlawful for any political subdivision, any of its officers or employees, or any person to operate an airport unless an appropriate permit required by rule of the Department has been issued by the Department and has not subsequently been revoked.
Permit Exemptions – PUC 21661, CCR 3533
Pursuant to PUC 21661 and CCR 3533, the following types of airports are exempt from State Airport Permit requirements:
- Airports owned or operated by the United States Government.
- Agricultural airports – Airports restricted to use only by agricultural aerial applicator aircraft (FAR Part 137 operators).
- Seaplane landing sites.
- Personal–Use airports in unincorporated areas which meet the requirements of Article 5 (CCR 3560) of the CCR.
- “Grandfathered” airports which were established and are currently being used under an exemption under previous Department regulations. These airports shall continue to be exempt, provided the use and conditions of the exemption continue to be met. These airports shall be marked in accordance with CCR 3560(e).
- An owner of an exempt airport may apply for a permit under these regulations.
- The above listed exemptions do not supersede or negate any requirements of federal agencies or local government jurisdictions.
- An airport’s exemption ceases if the airport’s owner no longer operates the airport within the limitations of the exemption.
California Airport Definitions
As described in CCR 3527, nonexempt airports in California fall into three categories, Public-Use, Special-Use, and Personal-Use. These airports are defined as:
An airport that is open for aircraft operations to the general public and is listed in the current edition of the FAA’s Airport/Facility Directory.
An airport not open to the general public, access to which is controlled by the owner in support of commercial activities*, public service operations and/or personal use.
*Commercial activities offer a facility, service or commodity for sale, hire, profit, or any other business purpose. Examples of commodities for sale are: food, lodging, entertainment, real estate, petroleum products, parts and equipment. Examples of services are: flight training, charter flights, maintenance, aircraft storage and tie-down. Examples of a facility used for a business purpose are: facility used for the transport of persons for a corporate business purpose and a facility used to transport persons for compensation or hire.
An airport limited to the noncommercial activities of an individual owner or family and occasional invited guests.
Public-Use and Special-Use airports normally require a State Airport Permit, unless exempted as “grandfathered” or otherwise. Personal-Use airports may be exempt from State Airport Permit requirements, provided they are located in unincorporated areas and also meet the requirements of Article 5 of the CCR (see below).
Under Article 5 of the CCR (CCR 3560), many design elements of Personal-Use airports are at the discretion of the owner. However, the Department requires at least the following:
- A runway length and width adequate to enable aircraft to operate safely, considering airport location and the performance data of the most demanding aircraft to utilize the airport.
- The ends of each runway shall be at least 200 feet from the airport property line.
- The distance from the runway centerline to the property line of another owner shall be at least 50 feet.
- The distance from the taxiway centerline to the property line of another owner shall be at least 50 feet.
- If the airport is identifiable as an airport from the air, it shall be marked with the letter “R” in accordance with the CCR 3543(a). If an airport lighting system is installed, it shall illuminate the required markings. The Department shall determine whether or not the airport is identifiable from the air if there is a dispute.
Pursuant to PUC 21664 and CCR 3534, any political subdivision or person planning to construct, establish, or expand an airport shall apply for the appropriate permit from the department prior to the construction, establishment or expansion. The permit application must be made on Department Form DOA-0100, Airport Site Approval Permit - Application and must include the following:
- Two copies of scaled drawings of the airport and adjoining areas. CCR 3534(b)(1), 3540, 3542, and 3543 provide required details, which include Airport Design standards such as Runway Safety Areas, FAR Part 77 imaginary surfaces including the Primary, Approach, and Transitional Surfaces, and required marking, lighting, and visual aids.
- Topographic map that shows the location and altitude of the aircraft traffic patterns relative to the airport.
- Local area map or drawing depicting the airport and the location of schools, places of public gathering and residential areas within two nautical miles of the centerline of a proposed runway.
- Pursuant to PUC 21661.5, documentation of approval of the plan for construction by either the Board of Supervisors of the county or the City Council of the city (as appropriate) in which the airport is to be located.
- Documentation of action by the Airport Land Use Commission of the county in which the airport is to be located.
- Documentation of compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (i.e., CEQA).
- Documentation showing ownership of the airport. The owner is the person with the authority to possess the facility, either as the outright legal owner or through a lease of at least one year. Grant Deeds, Tax Bills, and Lease Documents are examples of potentially suitable proof of ownership documents. Submissions should also include a plat map showing the location of the parcel(s).
- FAA Airspace Determination regarding the airport. The proponent must complete and submit FAA Form 7480-1, Notice of Landing Area Proposal, to the FAA. The FAA conducts an Airspace Study to determine the impact of the proposed facility on the National Airspace System and the Airspace Determination is the end product.
Permit Issuance, Requirements and Conditions
Pursuant to PUC 21666, the Department will consider the following, before issuing a State Airport Permit:
- The site meets or exceeds the minimum airport standards specified by the Department in its rules and regulations (the Department may modify its minimum airport standards if satisfied the airport will conform to minimum standards of safety).
- Safe air traffic patterns have been established for the proposed airport and all existing airports and approved airport sites in its vicinity.
- Safe "zones of approach" for the airport have been engineered in conformity with the provisions of PUC 21403 (compliance with FAR Part 77).
- The Department may impose reasonable permit conditions which it deems necessary to ensure the purposes of PUC 21666.
- The advantages to the public in selection of the site of a proposed new airport (or airport expansion) outweigh the disadvantages to the environment. Environmental considerations include but are not limited to noise, air pollution, and the burden upon the surrounding area caused by the airport (or airport expansion), including but not limited to, surface traffic and expense. The standards by which noise considerations are weighed shall be the level of noise acceptable to a reasonable person residing in the vicinity of the airport. The regulations adopted by the Department pursuant to PUC 21669 may be considered in determining such level of noise.
- Each permit issued by the department shall set forth any conditions imposed thereon, and any modification of the general minimum airport standards prescribed by the department relative to such airport or airport site.
- Any permit issued by the Department shall continue in effect so long as the airport meets the conditions under which the permit is issued or until action is taken by the Department to revoke or suspend the permit.
- When airport ownership changes, the new airport owner shall submit Department Form DOA-0103, Amended/Corrected Airport Permit-Application, along with legal documentation of the ownership change, within 30 days of such change.
- Before physical or operational changes are made which affect permit conditions, the airport owner shall submit Department Form DOA-0103, Amended/Corrected Airport Permit-Application, along with supporting documentation identified on the form, to remove, add or amend the conditions. The application and supporting documentation shall be submitted to the Department by the airport owner at least 30 working days prior to the physical or operational change.
- The Department may refuse to issue a permit if permit requirements have not been met. Any person denied a permit shall, upon request, be granted a hearing by the Department to determine whether the permit should be issued.
Permit Revocation / Suspension
Pursuant to PUC 21668, the Department may revoke an Airport Permit if any of the conditions shown below are present.
- There has been an abandonment of a site or an airport.
- There has been a failure within the time prescribed to develop the site as an airport or to comply with the conditions of the approval as set forth in the permit.
- The airport or site no longer conforms to the minimum airport standards prescribed by the Department, or no longer complies with the conditions imposed in the Airport Permit or site approval.
- The owner or operator of a permitted airport has failed to comply with any rule or regulation of the Department.
- The site may no longer be safely used by the general public because of a change in physical or legal conditions either on or off the airport site.
Additionally, an airport owner may request, in writing, that the Department revoke (or suspend) their Airport Permit (CCR 3536).
Note: Failures to meet minimum airport standards and permit conditions may be discovered during airport inspections by Department personnel. The Department may summarily revoke a permit for public safety considerations. Otherwise, the Department will provide prior notice and the opportunity, upon request, for a hearing by the Department to determine whether the revocation shall remain in effect.
Pursuant to PUC 21668.2, the Department may, in lieu of revoking an airport permit in accordance with PUC 21668, suspend any Airport Permit, or require suspension of operations of a portion of an airport. Any such suspension shall remain in effect until the department determines that the conditions requiring the suspension no longer exist. The Department may summarily suspend a permit for public safety considerations. Otherwise, the Department will provide prior notice and the opportunity, upon request, for a hearing by the Department to determine whether the suspension shall remain in effect.
Pursuant to PUC 21664.5, an Amended Airport Permit is required for expansions of existing airports. Proponents must submit Department Form DOA - 0103, Amended/Corrected Airport Permit - Application and provide the same information and documentation as needed for initial airport permitting (see Site Approval Section). Airport expansions include the following:
- The acquisition of Runway Protection Zones (RPZs), as defined in the FAA Airport Design Guide (Advisory Circular 150/1500 - 13), or of any interest in land for the purpose of any other expansion as set forth below.
- The construction of a new runway.
- The extension or realignment of an existing runway.
- Any other expansion of the airport's physical facilities for the purpose of accomplishing or which are related to the purpose of paragraph 1, 2, or 3.
Temporary Airport Authorization
As stated above, PUC 21663 makes it unlawful for an airport to be operated without a State Airport Permit (unless otherwise exempted). CCR 3532 provides a process for temporary authorization of an airport, for reasons like using a taxiway as a runway during runway reconstruction, or other short-term needs. To obtain a Temporary Airport Authorization, a person must submit a letter of request, along with the following information and documentation:
- Name of person applying and name of the aircraft operator.
- Site location (latitude and longitude and other descriptive information which will assist in locating site).
- Local area map with site plotted on map (United States Geological Survey, city map, etc.).
- Type(s) of aircraft to use the site.
- Period (start and end dates) and expected number of operations (landings and takeoffs).
- Purpose and description of operations.
- Letter or notice of approval from local governing body (city or county).
- Letter or notice of approval by landowner.
- The Department will evaluate temporary airport sites using the airport design standards in Article 3 of the CCR. Variances may potentially be granted from design standards when safety of flight or the interests of the general public are not jeopardized.
- Temporary Airport Authorizations are for specific events and specified time periods.