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ALERT Covid-19 FAQs - Updated April 18, 2022


Frequently Asked Questions

Find answers to common questions here.

The same aircraft keeps flying over my home. Why can’t they practice over the empty fields to the south or west of the airport?

There are four flight schools and one helicopter operator at SAC. Airport activity consists primarily of general aviation operations which include touch-and-go training. A touch-and-go is a maneuver in which the pilot makes an approach to the runway, configuring the aircraft to land, and briefly touches down on the runway, without ever coming to a stop. The pilot then continues down the runway, reconfigures the plane, and lifts off again. This maneuver is conducted in the traffic pattern for the runway which is why it occurs in close proximity to the airport.

Touch-and-go maneuvers are conducted by both student pilots building their skills and seasoned pilots seeking to maintain their proficiency. Many of the students at SAC are working to become commercial airline pilots. In order to operate safely at commercial airports of all sizes, they must become proficient at taking off and landing which includes communicating with and understanding the instructions of air traffic controllers working in the control tower. Student pilots from flight schools in other Northern California locales also come to SAC to gain experience in maneuvers such as touch-and-goes, low passes, and instrument landing system approaches, etc.

There are different types of instrument approaches. Pilots need to become adept at each in the event they need to perform them under a variety of conditions which may be less than ideal, such as low visibility. Touch-and-go maneuvers may involve several consecutive landings and take-offs and can appear as aircraft circling to those on the ground.

Why is there so much helicopter activity and why do they fly so low over residential areas?

A variety of different helicopter operations take place in and around SAC. There is a helicopter operator based at the airport that performs a number of services including, but not limited to: firefighting support, utility support and construction, aerial photography, tours, and maintenance. There are also news media helicopters based at the airport. On occasion, military helicopters will utilize the airport to conduct training operations. Some of these helicopters, such as the news helicopters, are small; while others, such as the military helicopters, can be quite large.

Helicopters using SAC have many unique characteristics which dictate their operations. The helipads are located on the west side of the airport. When helicopter training is occurring, air traffic controllers will often keep these operations to the west of the airport to maintain separation from fixed wing aircraft. Helicopters have shorter takeoff distances and often turn sooner than fixed wing aircraft. Maintenance activities, such as instrument calibration, may require in flight adjustment in proximity to the airport.

The FAA regulates helicopter operations through the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs). The FAR for minimum safe altitudes, 91.119, does not define an altitude below which a helicopter is not allowed to operate. It states that “Helicopters…If the operation is conducted without hazard to persons or property on the surface. A helicopter may be operated at less than the minimums prescribed in…this section, provided each person operating the helicopter complies with any routes or altitudes specifically prescribed for helicopters by the FAA”. The airport does not have the authority to tell the pilots how or where to fly or at which altitudes.

Have the flight paths changed?

Aircraft are designed to take off and land into the wind. Winds in the Sacramento region are frequently from the south; therefore the majority of the time aircraft at SAC will take off and land on Runway 20 (southwest alignment). This is the primary and calm wind runway as well as being the longest runway at the airport. Winds from the north are more likely to occur during the more variable weather conditions experienced during fall and spring. When the winds are from this direction aircraft at SAC will take off and land on Runway 30 (northwest alignment). This results in a greater degree of lower altitude overflights of the South Land Park area. When Runway 30 is in use, larger aircraft and jets will use Runway 02 (northeast alignment) – arriving from the south and departing to the north over the Hollywood Park area. The map shown below depicts the general areas of overflight experienced when aircraft arrive, depart or practice touch-and-go procedures on Runway 30.

Can the airport put a nighttime curfew into effect at SAC?

Airports which accept federal funding of any type are required to comply with federal Grant Assurances, (promises to follow specific rules), which require 24/7/365 open access to all aircraft that can do so in accordance with applicable FAA regulations and procedures. The aircraft operators create their own schedules of operations.

The Airport Noise and Capacity Act (ANCA) severely limits airport operators from imposing curfews or any other type of access restrictions. Under ANCA, the airport operator must undertake a successful Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) Part 161 Study demonstrating that any proposed curfew reduces or eliminates incompatible land uses. Part 161 requires that airport proprietors examine the costs and benefits of a proposed noise or access restriction within an “airport noise study area” with a goal of reducing the amount of incompatible land uses. That area must include all property that lies within the 65 DNL/CNEL dB contours. At this time, there are no incompatible land uses within the 65 CNEL noise contour at SAC. Therefore undertaking an FAR Part 161 Study is not an option. It is important to note that airports that had access restrictions in place prior to the passage of ANCA (e.g. San Jose, Long Beach, John Wayne in Santa Ana) were allowed to keep them via a clause in the legislation establishing ANCA that allowed most pre-existing restrictions to be maintained.

It is important to note that modeled noise contours (DNL and CNEL) are not the same as actual single-noise-event measurements. Single-noise-event measurements are accounted for in a cumulative sense by way of noise modeling. Federal regulations require the use of noise models to quantify future aircraft noise exposure based on forecast aircraft operations (count of operations) and fleet mix (types of aircraft performing operations).

The airport has a standard operating procedure that prohibits touch-and-goes after 9 p.m. Why isn’t it enforced?

SAC has two standard operating procedures (SOPs) which limit certain types of training maneuvers after 9 p.m. (2100) until 6 a.m.

No touch-and go operations between the hours of 21:00 and 06:00 hours local time.
No practice instrument approaches between the hours 21:00 and 06:00 local time. Full stop instrument approaches are acceptable at all times.

Touch-and-go operations are explained in detail in SAC FAQ No. 1. A touch-and-go will most often land (or touch) on the runway and take off again without coming to a full stop. To execute an instrument approach to the runway the pilot simulates Instrument Flight Rule (IFR) conditions (i.e. weather conditions less than visual meteorological conditions). The pilot does not land the aircraft. When the aircraft arrives at the missed approach point, approximately 200 feet Above Ground Level, the pilot initiates a takeoff. It is important to note that both of these SOPs were adopted prior to the passage of ANCA and were allowed to be kept under that legislation. For more on ANCA, see SAC FAQ No. 4.

Pilots need to be able to conduct training maneuvers after dark in order to maintain night currency as required by the FAA for nighttime operations. Therefore, full stop traffic pattern operations and full stop instrument approaches are acceptable at all times. During a full stop maneuver, the aircraft lands, exits the runway, and taxis to the departure end before taking off again. While full stop operations are less noisy, residents may interpret these as touch-and-goes or practice instrument approaches when they are not. The Department of Airports does not have the authority to prohibit full stop training maneuvers from taking place at night. This is the reason why the Department does not enforce the restriction with regard to stop-and-goes because these are allowed.

Why are aircraft landing at SAC so low over the Riverlake area?

Pilots have to fly low in order to properly line up the aircraft with the runway and execute safe landings. Pilots flying an Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) approach into SAC use the Instrument Landing System (ILS) or Localizer (LOC) approach to Runway 02. The ILS provides the pilot guidance on altitude while approaching the runway. Most aircraft using the ILS will be at the same altitudes as they approach the Airport. Given the proximity of the Riverlake area to the approach to Runway 02, residents are likely to experience overflights when pilots are using the ILS approach.

Pilots may also conduct a missed approach, either out of necessity or for practice. For this procedure, pilots are instructed to execute a climbing left turn and then fly direct to the Sacramento VORTAC (a ground based navigational aid located 5 miles southwest of SAC). The climbing left turn will place aircraft generally over the Greenhaven-Pocket area. The map below shows ILS approaches and missed approaches to Runway 02. This procedure is designed by the FAA to ensure safe operating parameters for aircraft operating on the ILS.

Can the airplanes be required to fly higher?

Aircraft operators have to abide by the Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) Part 91.119, which states in part that, “Except when necessary for departure or landing, the minimum altitude over urban areas is 1,000 feet and 500 feet over rural areas.” Traffic pattern altitude for SAC is 1,000 feet; turbine and large aircraft traffic pattern altitude is 1,500 feet. Local and state authorities do not have jurisdiction over airspace regulations and, therefore, cannot mandate that aircraft fly at higher altitudes.

Who regulates aircraft noise?

The FAA regulates the noise levels aircraft are legally allowed to generate through the aircraft certification process, standards for which are defined in the Code of Federal Regulations Part 36. Global standards are established by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), known as "stages," and the FAA recognizes those standards when establishing its policies.

As aircraft certification and operations are regulated at the federal level by the FAA, aircraft noise levels are outside the jurisdiction of state, county, or municipal government adopted codes or regulations, such as local noise ordinances.

What can the Department of Airports do to minimize aircraft noise impacts?

The Department promotes compatible land use planning near the Department-owned airports. The Department regularly reviews and comments on proposed developments near its facilities. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the permitting jurisdiction to consider the Department’s comments and recommendations and decide what, if any, conditions they may place on the proposed development (including disclosure notices or easements) and then of the property seller to fully abide by those conditions as part of any  property transaction.

The Department maintains information on its website and makes staff available upon request to assist prospective home buyers in understanding current and anticipated impacts from aircraft overflight activity so they can make their own informed decisions.

Information for pilots regarding traffic patterns and noise abatement procedures is readily available to pilots through a variety of flight planning resources, including FAA publications and information provided by the Department. Noise abatement procedures are voluntary and it is the responsibility of each pilot to determine if the procedures can be safely accommodated.

I have submitted noise complaints to the Department of Airports. They have responded that the issue is within the jurisdiction of the FAA. The FAA has told me this issue is within the jurisdiction of the Airport. What is the role of the FAA and what is the role of the Department of Airports?

The authority to design, implement, and enforce flight paths and all applicable regulations lies exclusively with the FAA. The Department is tasked with mitigating noise impacts when there are determined to be incompatible land uses. The FAA defines aircraft noise impacts as affecting incompatible land uses, such as residential, which are within the 65 Day/Night Average Sound Level [DNL] (or Community Noise Equivalent [CNEL] in California) noise contours. At this time there are no incompatible land uses within the 65 CNEL noise contour at SAC.

The Department mitigates noise impacts by advocating for specific nearby land uses (e.g. industrial over residential, etc.), working with the appropriate planning agencies to comment on the current and future (projected based on flight forecasts) nature of overflights of a specific area (e.g. housing or educational developments), and educating the public on flight procedures and how they interact with and affect the National Airspace System.

Recording and responding to noise complaints is also a duty of the Department.  While it is understandable that callers will want the Department to implement immediate action to address their concern, such action is almost always beyond our authority to implement. The Department investigates concerns in order to explain the circumstances to the caller and further understanding of the situation. If in the judgment of the Department it appears a standard operating procedure or even a Federal Aviation Regulation has not been adhered to for an unexplainable reason, the Department may at its discretion attempt to bring the situation to the attention of either the aircraft operator (if identified) or the FAA in the hopes of avoiding an unnecessary reoccurrence.

Aside from noise, we are concerned aircraft pollutants and health effects from overflights are compromising our neighborhood and our atmosphere. What can be done about this?

As part of the certification process, aircraft manufacturers must meet increasingly stringent emissions standards established by federal law and go through routine maintenance checks that ensure all equipment remains within federally established acceptable and safe operating parameters.

Neither the state nor any local government has jurisdictional authority over aircraft emissions of any type; only federal policies influence emissions levels from aircraft. FAA and industry research on cleaner fuel alternatives for general aviation aircraft, including lower emission fuel substitutes, as well as electric-and hydrogen-powered aircraft is ongoing. It will take time for the technology to be fully developed and certified. The FAA will be the entity responsible for certifying alternative fuels and low to zero emission aircraft types.

How can I track the aircraft flying over my neighborhood?

The Department makes aircraft flight tracks available for interactive investigation and viewing by the public at https://webtrak.emsbk.com/smf3.

Note that depiction of aircraft operations are delayed by approximately two hours for data processing.

I am contemplating the purchase of a home in the Sacramento area. How can I learn more about potential overflights and exposure to aircraft noise at that location?

While property sellers and realtors are required by California state law to disclose a home’s proximity to the airport if it is within an Airport Influence or Reference Area or within two miles of an airport, the Department strongly recommends that prospective homebuyers do their own research. The Department is happy to provide information for Prospective Homebuyers to anyone considering buying a home in the area. Please use the following link to our website for more information: https://sacramento.aero/scas/environment/noise/executive_airport_sac/information_for_prospective_homebuyers_sac

My question hasn’t been addressed or thoroughly answered here. Where can I get more information?

You may contact the Department through the Noise Information Office by calling (916) 874-0800, emailing planenoiseinfo@saccounty.net, or filling out the form on our website: https://sacramento.aero/scas/environment/noise/noise_comment_or_question.

In order to correlate a reported aircraft noise event to an aircraft, an address is requested. Please allow up to one week for a response to detailed inquiries as we research and provide specific information relative to the event.

In addition to our website, you might find the following links helpful: 

FAA Western-Pacific Region Aircraft Noise and Community Involvement Information
FAA Noise Quest
ICAO Environmental Report
Airport Noise and Access Restrictions
Electronic Code of Federal Regulations
Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990
FAA Part 150 & 161 Airport Regulations and Restrictions