What We Do
The Office of Airports is responsible for heliport permitting and inspection, and other matters related to heliports and aviation in the State of California. We work with federal, State, and local agencies; heliport owners, managers, and consultants; and members of the public.
- Conduct public-use heliport and hospital heliport safety and permit compliance inspections.
- Review and assess new, amended, and corrected heliport permit applications, including plans check/approval, site visits, final permit inspections, and issuing of permits.
- Host and maintain the Hospital Heliport Dataplates information system.
- Work with federal, State, and local agencies on facility, airspace, and other aviation matters.
- Assist and guide current and prospective heliport owners, managers, and consultants with permitting, regulatory, and other aviation issues.
- Respond to State aeronautics-related requests and questions from the public.
As a general rule, it is unlawful to operate a heliport in the State of California without a State Heliport Permit. State Heliport 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. Note that unless specified in the law otherwise, Airport = Heliport (PUC 21013 says that aircraft use airports. Helicopters meet the PUC 21012 definition of aircraft, so heliports are just airports for helicopters. CCR 3525 specifically states the term "airport" shall apply equally to heliports unless specified for "airports only" or "heliports only"). This page is intended to provide permitting guidelines, exemptions, and the procedures necessary to obtain and maintain a State Heliport Permit for a heliport in California.
Permit Enacting Statute – PUC 21663
Operation Without a Permit – It is unlawful for any political subdivision, any of its officers or employees, or any person to operate an airport (heliport) unless an appropriate airport (heliport) permit required by rule of the Department has been issued by the Department and has not subsequently been revoked.
- Heliports owned or operated by the United States Government.
- Agricultural heliports – heliports restricted to use only by agricultural aerial applicator aircraft (FAR Part 137 operators).
- Seaplane landing sites (for helicopters).
- Personal-use heliports in unincorporated areas which meet the requirements of Article 5 of CCR 3560.
- “Grandfathered” heliports which were established and are currently being used under an exemption granted under previous Department regulations. These heliports shall continue to be exempt, provided the use and conditions of the exemption continue to be met. These heliports shall be marked in accordance with CCR 3560(e).
- Heliports established on offshore oil platforms.
- Temporary helicopter landing sites that are not within 1000 feet of the boundary of a public or private school maintaining kindergarten classes or any classes in grades 1 through 12 (see California Heliport Definitions).
- Emergency medical services (EMS) landing sites (see California Heliport Definitions).
- Emergency use facilities (see California Heliport Definitions).
- An owner of an exempt heliport 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.
- A heliport's exemption ceases if the heliport's owner no longer operates the heliport within the limitations of the exemption.
- A separate heliport permit is not required for a designated heliport located within the boundaries of a permitted airport if the heliport meets heliport design standards as described in Article 4 of the CCR (Sections 3550, 3552, 3554).
(However, for these “on airport” heliports, the Department needs to approve the proposed heliport. See the Site Approval section for more information.)
California Heliport Definitions
As described in CCR 3527, nonexempt heliports in California fall into three categories: Public-Use, Special-Use, and Personal-Use. Public-Use and Special-Use heliports normally require a State Heliport Permit, unless exempted as “grandfathered” or otherwise. Personal-Use heliports may be exempt from State Heliport Permit requirements, provided they are located in unincorporated areas and also meet the requirements of Article 5 of the CCR (see below). These heliports are defined as:
A heliport that is open for aircraft operations to the general public and is listed in the current edition of the FAA’s Airport/Facility Directory.
A heliport 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.
A heliport limited to the noncommercial activities of an individual owner or family and occasional invited guests.
Under Article 5 of the CCR (CCR 3560), many design elements of Personal-Use heliports are at the discretion of the owner. However, the Department requires at least the following:
- FATO dimensions adequate to enable aircraft to operate safely, considering heliport location and the performance data of the most demanding aircraft to utilize the airport.
- The closest point of each FATO shall be at least 80 feet from the heliport property line.
- If the heliport is identifiable as a heliport from the air, it shall be marked with the letters “PVT” in accordance with CCR 3554(a)(3). If a heliport lighting system is installed, it shall illuminate the required markings. The Department shall determine whether or not the heliport is identifiable from the air if there is a dispute.
Additionally, the following definitions help determine whether a proposed helicopter landing area is exempt from State Heliport Permit requirements:
Temporary Helicopter Landing Site
A site, other than an emergency medical service landing site at or near a medical facility, which is used for landing and taking off of helicopters and:
- Is used or intended to be used for less than one year, except for recurrent annual events, and
- Is not marked as a permitted heliport as described in CCR 3554, and
- Is used only for emergency medical purposes.
Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Landing Site
A site used for the landing and taking off of EMS helicopters that is located at or as near as practical to a medical emergency or at or near a medical facility and
- has been designated an EMS landing site (PDF)* by an officer authorized by a public safety agency, as defined in PUC 21662.1, using criteria that the public safety agency has determined is reasonable and prudent for the safe operation of EMS helicopters (a copy of the written authorization must be provided to the Department) and
- is used, over any 12-month period, for no more than an average of 6 landings per month with a patient or patients on the helicopter, except to allow for adequate medical response to a mass casualty event even if that response causes the site to be used beyond these limits, and
- is not marked as a permitted heliport as described in CCR 3554, and
- is used only for emergency medical purposes.
Emergency Use Facility
An area for accommodating helicopters in support of emergency public safety agency operations but is not used as a heliport for any other purpose.
Pursuant to Public Utilities Code (PUC) 21664 and California Code of Regulations (CCR) 3534, any political subdivision or person planning to construct, establish, or expand a heliport 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-0201, Heliport Site Approval Permit - Application and must include the following:
- Two copies of scaled drawings of the heliport and adjoining areas. CCR 3534(b)(1), 3550, 3551, and 3554 provide required details, which include Heliport Design standards such as the TLOF (Touchdown and Liftoff Area), FATO (Final Approach and Takeoff Area), and 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 of the approach surfaces relative to the heliport.
- Local area map or drawing depicting the heliport and the location of schools, places of public gathering and residential areas within 1,000 feet of the center of a proposed FATO.
- 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 heliport is to be located. Note that PUC 21661.5(b) allows delegation of this responsibility to the county or city planning agency, if properly delegated (i.e., by Resolution).
- Documentation of action by the Airport Land Use Commission of the county in which the heliport is to be located.
- Documentation of compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (i.e., CEQA).
- Documentation showing ownership of the heliport. 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 heliport. 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.
Note: A separate heliport permit is not required for a designated heliport located within the boundaries of a permitted airport if the heliport meets heliport design standards as described in Article 4 (CCR 3550, 3551, 3554) of the CCR. For these "on airport" heliports, proponents need to submit the "scaled drawings" and "FAA Airspace Determination" described above, so that the Department may approve that the proposed heliport meets design standards.
Permit Issuance Requirements and Conditions
Pursuant to PUC 21666, the Department will consider the following, before issuing a State Heliport Permit:
- The site meets or exceeds the minimum heliport standards specified by the Department in its rules and regulations (the Department may modify its minimum heliport standards if satisfied the heliport will conform to minimum standards of safety; for example, the Department may grant a variance for penetration of one FAR Part 77 Transitional Surface, such as for an elevator penthouse).
- Safe air traffic patterns have been established for the proposed heliport and all existing airports/heliports and approved airport/heliport sites in its vicinity.
- Safe "zones of approach" for the heliport 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 heliport (or heliport 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 heliport (or heliport 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 heliport. 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 heliport standards prescribed by the department relative to such heliport or heliport site.
- Any permit issued by the Department shall continue in effect so long as the heliport meets the conditions under which the permit is issued or until action is taken by the Department to revoke or suspend the permit.
- When heliport ownership changes, the new heliport owner shall submit Department Form DOA-0202, Corrected Heliport 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 heliport owner shall submit Department Form DOA-0202, Corrected Heliport 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 heliport 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 a Heliport Permit if any of the conditions shown below are present.
- There has been an abandonment of a site or a heliport.
- There has been a failure within the time prescribed to develop the site as a heliport or to comply with the conditions of the approval as set forth in the permit.
- The heliport or site no longer conforms to the minimum heliport standards prescribed by the Department, or no longer complies with the conditions imposed in the Heliport Permit or site approval.
- The owner or operator of a permitted heliport 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 heliport site.
Additionally, a heliport owner may request, in writing, that the Department revoke (or suspend) their Heliport Permit (CCR 3536).
Failures to meet minimum heliport standards and permit conditions may be discovered during heliport 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 a Heliport Permit pursuant to Section 21668, suspend any Heliport Permit, or require suspension of operations of a portion of a heliport. 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 Heliport Permit is required for expansions of existing heliports. Proponents must submit Department Form DOA-0202, Corrected Heliport Permit - Application and provide the same information and documentation as needed for initial heliport permitting (see Site Approval Section).
Heliport expansions include the following:
- The acquisition of any interest in land for the purpose of any other expansion as set forth below.
- The construction of a new heliport landing area (TLOF/FATO equivalent to runway).
- The extension or realignment of an existing FATO (equivalent to Primary Surface of an airport runway, from which Approach Surfaces originate).
- Any other expansion of the heliport's physical facilities for the purpose of accomplishing or which are related to the purpose of paragraph 1, 2, or 3.
Temporary Heliport Authorization
PUC 21663 makes it unlawful for a heliport to be operated without a State Heliport Permit (unless otherwise exempted). CCR 3532 provides a process for temporary authorization of a heliport, for reasons like using another landing site during TLOF reconstruction, or other short-term needs. To obtain a Temporary Heliport 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.
- Pursuant to PUC 21662.5, for a Temporary Heliport Authorization for helicopter operations within 1000 feet of a school, see the Helicopter Landing Authorization page.
- The Department will evaluate temporary heliport sites using the heliport design standards in Article 4 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 Heliport Authorizations are for specific events and specified time periods.