Are there different categories of airports? If so, how are the San Carlos Airport and Half Moon Bay Airport categorized?

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) categorizes airports as national, regional, local, or basic. The FAA further categorizes airports as commercial service, primary, cargo service, reliever, or general aviation. The San Carlos Airport and Half Moon Bay Airport are both classified by the FAA as Local Reliever Airports: those that relieve congestion at Commercial Service Airports and provide improved general aviation access to the overall community. Reliever Airports serve general aviation flights and can accommodate air taxi/charter flights with less than 10 passengers. The airports have been designated as relievers since the FAA began its categorization program.

Are the San Carlos Airport and Half Moon Bay Airport “Commercial Airports”?

As stated above, San Carlos and Half Moon Bay are Reliever Airports. These airports serve the community by providing flight training, public benefit/volunteer, air-taxi, charter, sight-seeing, military, air ambulance, aerial survey, law enforcement, business, private, and a variety of other aeronautical uses. In aviation, the term “commercial” simply means the flight is being operated for-profit. Examples of “commercial” flights include flight training, air ambulance, aerial survey, air-taxi, charter, etc. The airports are also used for many public benefit (volunteer) purposes such as Angel Flights, Doctors without Borders, Pilots-n-Paws, Young Eagles, Disaster Airlift Response Team, etc.

I’m looking to purchase or rent a home near the San Carlos Airport or Half Moon Bay Airport – who can I speak with about overflight areas?

Please call our office at 650-573-3700 and speak to Davi Howard, Airport Communications Specialist. If Davi is not available, please ask to speak with an Assistant Airport Manager or the Airport Manager. We are happy to discuss your concerns about aircraft noise, provide maps of flight paths, and other data to help you make an informed decision.

How busy are the San Carlos and Half Moon Bay Airports?

Airport Operations – The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) uses the number of airport “operations” to define airport activity levels. An operation is an aircraft takeoff or a landing. For example, a "touch and go" conducted by a training aircraft includes both a takeoff and a landing, and counts as two operations.

San Carlos Airport – In 2017, San Carlos Airport had a total of 114,618 aircraft operations.  An operation is a takeoff or landing. That is on average, 13 operations per hour 24 hours a day.  However, since most of the traffic is concentrated in the daytime hours, there are approximately 22 operations per hour. 

Like our roads and highways, the airport has peak commute and travel hours and days.  In 2017, the busiest day and times were Saturdays from 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm and Sundays from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm. In the last 20 years, the highest number of operations at the San Carlos Airport took place in the year 2003 with over 171,105 aircraft operations.  General aviation operations at airports nationwide, including San Carlos and Half Moon Bay Airports have declined approximately 40 percent since 2000.

Half Moon Bay Airport – Since the Half Moon Bay Airport does not have an Air Traffic Control Tower to track airport operations, we estimate the annual number using a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved methodology. The annual number of operations at the Half Moon Bay Airport is estimated at 50,000. While that’s an average of 137 aircraft operations per day, the weather on the coast (overcast approximately 40% of the year) creates clusters of airport operations resulting in “busy days” when the weather is clear, after days or weeks of “slow days” when the weather is overcast.

What can the Airport do to stop aircraft from flying over my neighborhood?

The County Airports – San Carlos Airport and Half Moon Bay Airport – are responsible for managing and maintaining the airports but do not have jurisdiction over how and where aircraft fly. As soon as an aircraft is airborne, it’s under the jurisdiction of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). We work collaboratively with our local Air Traffic Control tower and various FAA offices to reduce noise for the community, whenever possible. 

What are the Airport hours of operation?

Airfield Hours – The San Carlos Airport and Half Moon Bay Airport are designated as Public Use Airports by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Both are open and usable 24 hours per day, seven days per week, and in most weather conditions. However, as stated above, most of the traffic is concentrated in the daytime hours.

Air Traffic Control Tower Hours – The Air Traffic Control Tower at San Carlos is open from 7:00 am to 9:00 pm every day.

Airport Personnel/Office Hours – The Airport Office at San Carlos Airport is open from  8:00 am to 5:00 pm Monday through Friday excluding holidays. At San Carlos, Operations Staff are on-duty from 7:00 am until 9:00 pm every day. At Half Moon Bay, Operations Staff are on-duty from 8:30 am until 4:30 pm every day.

Why do so many airplanes take off and land in the same direction?

Aircraft must arrive and depart into the wind. San Carlos and Half Moon Bay Airport’s runways are aligned with the predominate wind directions. In the bay area, the wind direction is primarily from the north-west (NW). This results in aircraft arriving and departing to the NW (in the approximate direction of 300° on a compass). During inclement weather days (low clouds, etc.), the wind direction is primarily from the south-east (SE) and aircraft will arrive and depart to the SE (in the approximate direction of 120° on a compass). Approximately 85% of the traffic at the San Carlos Airport and Half Moon Bay Airport arrive and depart to the NW. For noise abatement, both Airports uses southeasterly departures when the wind is less than 5 knots (the “calm wind” departures). This voluntary noise abatement procedure is typically used in the mornings.

What areas experience the greatest amount of aircraft overflights?

The areas immediately surrounding the airports, below the traffic patterns, and below the arrival and departure flight paths will experience aircraft overflights. The County, its Pilots Associations, Community Groups, and the Federal Aviation Administration worked together to develop a robust Voluntary Noise Abatement Program (VNAP) for the San Carlos Airport and Half Moon Bay Airports to minimize noise impacts to surrounding communities, whenever possible. Adherence to the VNAPs is high and the VNAP program reduces a great deal of overflight noise for our neighbors. However, it is impossible to eliminate overflight disturbance for residents living near a flight path for the airports. 

Can aircraft turn earlier, fly higher, or fly left (or right) of the current flight path to avoid my neighborhood?

Due to the volume of air traffic in the bay area arriving and departing the San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Oakland International Airport (OAK), Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC), reliever airports – and both the San Carlos and Half Moon Bay Airports being located below SFO’s (highly restricted) Class Bravo airspace, it is not possible to move flight paths without impacting the entire system of airports. 

Do you have noise abatement procedures?

The San Carlos Airport and Half Moon Bay Airport are surrounded by noise sensitive neighborhoods. The County, Pilots Associations, Airport Staff, Community Groups, and the Federal Aviation Administration developed a robust voluntary noise abatement program (VNAPs) as a “fly friendly” policy to reduce overflight disturbances for our neighbors. Please read the VNAPs for each airport below:

San Carlos Airport – Fly Friendly :

San Carlos Airport – Fly Friendly:  San Carlos / Half Moon Bay Airports Video Series

Half Moon Bay Airport – Fly Friendly:

Half Moon Bay Airport – Fly Friendly:  San Carlos / Half Moon Bay Airports Video Series

How do I complain about aircraft overflights or low-flying aircraft?

There are two ways to file an aircraft noise complaint for the San Carlos Airport or Half Moon Bay Airport. Please provide as much information as possible. Details will help airport staff review and process your complaint.

Complete and submit our noise complaint webform.

Leave a voicemail on our noise complaint hotline at 844-266-6266.

The Airport does not refer complaints to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Our Noise Abatement Program is voluntary as required by the FAA. Neighbors can report aircraft they believe are in violation of Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) directly to the FAA's hotline reporting form.

Is there a legal minimum altitude that airplanes can fly over residential areas?

Federal Aviation Regulations require a minimum altitude of 1,000 feet over congested areas and 500 feet over non-congested areas. The exception to this rule are helicopters and aircraft that are in the process of taking off or landing (including the traffic pattern area/touch and goes). The Federal Aviation Administration’s explanation for the helicopter exemption is included below:

Helicopter operations may be conducted below the minimum altitudes set for fixed-wing aircraft. The reason: they have unique operating characteristics, the most important of which is their ability to execute pinpoint emergency landings during power-out emergencies. Furthermore, the helicopter's increased use by law enforcement and emergency medical service agencies requires added flexibility (

What is NEXTGEN?

FAA NEXTGEN: The movement to the next generation of aviation is being enabled by a shift to smarter, satellite-based, digital technologies and new procedures. Combined, these elements make air travel safer, more convenient, predictable and environmentally friendly. As the nation’s largest airports continue to experience congestion, NextGen efficiency improvements are enabling FAA to guide and track aircraft more precisely on more direct routes, reducing congestion, delays, fuel burn emissions and noise. NextGen is also vital to preserving aviation’s significant contributions to our national economy. Learn more about FAA’s NextGen Initiative and how it relates to SQL on the FAA website.

FAA Optimization of Airspace & Procedures: One of the first phases of NextGen implementation is an initiative called the Optimization of the Airspace and Procedures in the Metroplex (OAPM). Also referred to as "Metroplex", a Metroplex is a geographic area that includes several commercial and general aviation airports in close proximity serving a major metropolitan area and a diversity of aviation stakeholders. By optimizing airspace and procedures in the Metroplex, the FAA provides solutions on a regional scale, rather than focusing on a single airport and set of procedures. Redesigning the congested airspace above major centers of operations such as metroplexes creates a more integrated, efficient and predictable system.