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Clarity for California airport leases

An AOPA-supported measure signed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom on September 5 removes ambiguity over the interpretation between FAA and state guidance concerning the length of airport lease agreements.

Photo by Mike Fizer.

California Senate Minority Leader Brian Jones (R-District 40) introduced S.B.654 in February, after concerned pilots and residents raised concerns about the lack of clarity in state law surrounding airport and hangar leases and how they are negotiated and renegotiated. Of particular concern was an interpretation by San Diego County forbidding the extension of airport leases beyond 50 years—even in cases where a lease had been inherited or purchased by a new individual.

FAA guidance, which limits airport lease terms to 50 years, was being misapplied to justify shorter lease terms for California airport tenants who were renegotiating or inheriting leases. “This policy has hampered investment in airport facility maintenance, which relies on lessee investments that often take decades to pay off,” according to a release by Jones’s office. “The County’s policy directly impacted the constituents’ involvement at a local airport.”

Correct interpretation of the FAA policy ensures that renegotiation of lease terms be treated as new leases, meaning the maximum lease term of 50 years should be applied each time the lease is passed on or renegotiated. Working with Jones, the AOPA Government Affairs team worked to clarify this FAA guidance, providing in-person testimony before several committees within the California State Legislature and submitting a letter of support for S.B.654.

The measure—which passed the Senate and Assembly unanimously before being signed by Gov. Newsom on September 5—clarifies the existing laws to allow airports to extend hangar leases following FAA guidance on lease terms, so long as no single lease term is longer than 50 years.

“We wish to thank Senator Jones on behalf of our members for authoring this important measure,” said Jared Yoshiki, AOPA Western Pacific regional manager. "The enactment of S.B. 654 will go a long way in assuring an equal playing field and that all airports, regardless of size, apply the same regulations appropriately to all users.”

Lillian Geil
Communications Specialist
Communications Specialist Lillian Geil is a student pilot and a graduate of Columbia University who joined AOPA in 2021.

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