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Gillespie Field FAQs

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Frequently Asked Questions


For safety and quality of life, why doesn’t the County of San Diego prohibit aircraft from flying over residential areas including schools and churches?

The County of San Diego is the owner and sponsor of the Gillespie Field airport and under regulation by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), provides for the safe operation of the airport surface facilities.  While the County Airports staff are committed to the safety of aviation and strive continuously to meet all safety requirements within their jurisdiction on the surface of the airport, they do not have authority over aircraft in flight.  “The United States Government as exclusive sovereignty of airspace of the United States”—Title 49USC Subtitle VII Section 40103(a) (1).  The FAA Air Traffic Organization (ATO) controls the flight of aircraft.

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Why do planes fly over my house?

There are several airports in the County of San Diego: San Diego International Airport, McCellan-Palomar Airport, Naval Air Station North Island, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Camp Pendleton, Imperial Beach Naval Outlying Field, Montgomery Field, Brown Field, Gillespie Field, Ramona, Fallbrook, Oceanside, Borrego Springs, Agua Caliente, Jacumba, Ocotillo and other private airports. In fact, there are more than sixteen airports in San Diego County alone. The FAA regulates and classifies airspace throughout the County to separate air traffic both horizontally and vertically. It is inevitable that air traffic will occur over all areas of the County, however, overflights may occur more frequently if you reside closer to an airport's flight pattern.

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Why doesn’t the County limit the use of the airport by establishing use restrictions and fines?

Gillespie Field is classified by the FAA National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS) as a public use Reliever Airport which is part of the national transportation system.  The airport is prohibited by federal law from establishing use restrictions, fines, and penalties.  As a result of Federal grant assurances and Federal regulations the airport must remain open 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year.  As stated in the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990, proposed restrictions must be supported by substantial evidence in six areas; 1)…the restriction is reasonable, non arbitrary, and nondiscriminatory; 2)…does not create an undue burden on interstate or foreign commerce; 3)…is consistent with maintaining the safe and efficient utilization of the navigable airspace; 4)…does not conflict with any existing Federal statute or regulation; 5)…there has been adequate opportunity for public comment….; 6)…does not create an undue burden on the national aviation system.

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What are the rules regarding how low an aircraft can fly over a residential area?

When aircraft are flying in the traffic pattern or approaching or departing the airport there is no regulation requiring a minimum safe altitude, for the altitude is governed by the operational characteristics of the aircraft and the written procedures.  Minimum safe altitude rules are designed to protect persons and property and are not in place to mitigate noise.  Aircraft altitude is established by Federal law; Title 14, Code of Federal Regulations Section 91.119 which governs flight states: "Except when necessary for takeoff or landing, no person may operate an aircraft below the following altitudes:

·    Over congested areas. Over any congested area of a city, town, or settlement, or over any open air assembly of persons, an altitude of 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet of the aircraft.

·    Over other than congested areas. An altitude of 500 feet above the surface, except over open water or sparsely populated areas. In those cases, the aircraft may not be operated closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.

·    Helicopters may be operated at less than the minimums prescribed in paragraph (b) or (c) of this section if the operation is conducted without hazard to persons or property on the surface. In addition, each person operating a helicopter shall comply with any routes or altitudes specifically prescribed for helicopters by the Administrator."

It is important to be aware of two very important aspects of this regulation. First, most aircraft operating in the vicinity of Gillespie Field are in the process of landing or taking off, thus this regulation does not apply. Second, helicopters may operate at less than the minimums.

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What is the voluntary noise abatement program (VNAP)?

In an effort to minimize aircraft noise impacts on the community, the County has established a Voluntary Noise Abatement Program (VNAP).  The VNAP routing is a recommendation to Visual Flight Rule (VFR) aircraft that was coordinated with the FAA but were not formally recognized or accepted by the FAA as official air traffic control procedures.   Because noise avoidance information is a general recommendation it may not conform to Air Traffic Control patterns and instructions.  It is important to note that the VNAP cannot be made directive to the FAA or pilots and because of safety, traffic sequence, or weather factors, etc., the FAA air traffic control instructions and pilot requests will have precedence over the VNAP.  Aircraft safety is the primary consideration for pilots and the FAA Control Tower. To register an aircraft noise complaint, please call (619) 956-4800 or go to http://www.sdcdpw.org/noise/

Below is the voluntary noise abatement program:

  • Discourage touch and go operations 10pm to 7am
  • Discourage jet operations 10pm to 7am
  • Encourage training operations at other County airports
  • Encourage touch and go operations on Runway 27R when able
  • Runway 17 preferred noise abatement departure when tower closed

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What is the Good Neighbor Program?

Gillespie Field is a busy general aviation airfield that supports numerous aviation businesses and the local economy. Voluntary noise abatement procedures for Gillespie were established many years ago. The program has several components, some which are directed at reducing noise though pilot education and others intended to raise the awareness of the residents about the existence of the airport. The Good Neighbor Program exists within the voluntary noise abatement program as an effort to educate both the airport users and the community as to the issues and concerns.

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How do I make a noise complaint?

To register an aircraft noise complaint, please call (619) 956-4800 or go to http://www.sdcdpw.org/noise/ and fill out the Airport Noise Reporting form.

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Where can I learn more about the Noise Abatement Program?

Go to http://www.sdcounty.ca.gov/dpw/airports/goodneighbor.html

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How many takeoffs and landings does Gillespie Field have?

Gillespie Field was constructed in 1942 and the County began keeping records of takeoff and landings (operations) in 1964. From 1964-2012 Gillespie Field has an annual average of 219,901 operations. This equates to a daily average of 602 operations a day. Operations at general aviation airports, such as Gillespie Field, do vary from month to month. Typically, we see slightly less operations during the fall and winter compared with what we see in the spring and summer. The annual average over the last 4 years (2009-2012) was 202,951. From 2005-2008 the annual average was 267,795. Last year (2012) Gillespie Field had 184,512 operations. 

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Are there any safety requirements for aircraft and Pilots?

The FAA Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) is responsible for aviation safety.  FSDO certifies and licenses aircraft and pilots, provides safety training and conducts safety investigations.  Call the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) at (858) 502-9882 to report a low flight or an unsafe operation.

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Fuel Dumping

Recently, there have been concerns about aircraft dumping fuel.  Some large commercial jet aircraft have the ability to dump fuel to meet a maximum weight limit prior to landing.  This usually occurs only during an emergency situation.  Small general aviation aircraft, like those that operate at Gillespie Field, do not have the capability to dump fuel.

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Vetting process for foreign students receiving flight training

In order to receive flight training in the United States, a foreign student must apply to a flight school that has been certified by ICE’s Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).  SEVP has a comprehensive certification process for schools seeking to enroll nonimmigrant students to ensure that only legitimate foreign students gain entry to the United States.  A designated school official at a SEVP-certified school reviews the foreign student’s application and issues the student a Form I-20M-N, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (M-1) Student Status for Vocational Students.  An applicant must then apply for an M-1 student visa with the U.S. Department of State (DOS), which determines whether to issue the visa.  The vetting process continues when the potential student applies for entry in the United States at a designated port of entry, where the applicant is examined by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer who determines whether the applicant is admissible into the United States.

In addition to being vetted by DOS and CBP, applicants are also vetted by DHS’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA) through the Alien Flight Student Program, which includes a review of the student’s submission of fingerprints to TSA.  If TSA does not discover any derogatory information about a student during this process, the student is issued a security threat assessment, which allows foreign flight students to fly in the United States.

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What should prospective home buyers in El Cajon, Santee and Lakeside do before purchasing a home or property?

The County of San Diego Airport Management can help you understand the flight patterns, variations in aircraft traffic and potential noise impacted areas from aircraft operations. We encourage home buyers to visit properties at several different times of the day. For additional information, call (619) 956-4800.

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What are the fees for aircraft parking?

Each Fixed Base Operator (FBO) is an independently owned and operated business; for their rate please contact your FBO of Choice.

County’s overnight tie down fee:        $3 for single engine

             $4 for multi engine

             $6 for Jets 

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