Santa Barbara Airport Guide

Santa Barbara is a small city on the Californian coast, overlooked by the Santa Ynez Mountains. Santa Barbara Airport is a few miles north of downtown, occupying a scenic location close to the famous beaches of the area.

Although not a large airport compared, for example, to Los Angeles International (LAX), a fair number of airliners do fly into it, and it is quite well-known.

However, even if you think you are familiar with Santa Barbara Airport, you should know that flying into an airport as a private pilot is very different from doing so in an airliner.

You need to know what you’re doing! Of course, flying into different airports is part of the fun of having a Private Pilot’s License, and I happen to know that Santa Barbara is a most interesting airport to fly into.  You see, I went there some years ago.

At the time I was based at an airport in the Los Angeles area, and I flew myself north up the coast to Santa Barbara, where I had lunch, took some friends flying, and then flew back to my base airfield.  It was a lovely day out, and I’d thoroughly recommend it to any private pilot

Despite this, I should emphasize that you do need to know about the airport you plan to fly to, especially if it is fairly large.  So this article is intended as a useful guide for private pilots and others, particularly if they are flying to Santa Barbara for the first time.

There are also some details of flying schools based at the airport, for those who might want to learn to fly at Santa Barbara Airport.  And I’ll finish with some ideas of what to do if you plan to spend some time there after arrival.

Bottom Line Up Front

Santa Barbara Airport is an excellent place for a private pilot to fly to for a number of reasons, from enjoying a good day out to doing business to looking for a flying school.

However, there are a number of things you need to know in advance of your flight, particularly as Santa Barbara is a coastal airport, which means there can be hazards when landing. And you do need to have studied the area, the requirements of the airport, and the weather, on the day of your flight.

Also, it is not all that easy a destination for low-hours pilots, so if in any doubt, take an instructor or more experienced pilot with you. It is also possible to learn to fly at Santa Barbara ~Airport, and I would definitely recommend their flying school, “Above All Aviation”.

Why You Might Want To Fly To Santa Barbara Airport


There are a number of reasons why you, as a private pilot, might want to fly to Santa Barbara Airport. Let’s look now at the main ones.

1) Gaining Flying Experience

Too many private pilots rarely go far from their home base, and certainly don’t visit large airports used by commercial traffic.

This is a pity, as you can learn a lot by spreading your wings, as it were. Every airport is different.

Of course, you may need to study things such as the runway layouts and requirements for those pilots flying in, but that should not be too onerous. I would definitely recommend flying to Santa Barbara Airport as a way to gain useful flying experience

2) A Good Day Out

Flying to other airports is a lot of what being a private pilot is about!  And going to Santa Barbara Airport can definitely be a good day out.

As well as learning about the procedures there, you can visit the city, go to the beach, or maybe do some sailing or other watersports. Flying to some airports just tends to mean that you pay a landing fee, have a cup of coffee, then fly back to your base.

There’s nothing wrong with that of course, but you can do very much more at Santa Barbara Airport.

3) Part Of A Flying Holiday

Perhaps you have a fair amount of flying experience, maybe even own your own aircraft, and are thinking of having a holiday touring by air.  Santa Barbara Airport would be a great stop on such a flying holiday.  It is not too far from other airports, such as the large number in the Los Angeles area, or some further inland.

So your flights do not have to be particularly long.  The airport also has a number of restaurants, and it is not hard to find accommodation in the city of Santa Barbara.  So this could be a good stop on your flying vacation.

4) A Business Trip

Of course, you may want to use your aircraft for business purposes. If you do this, Santa Barbara Airport is a good place to fly into.  It has good ground transport links, so it will be easy to continue your journey. And again, accommodation and meals will be easy to find.

5) To Find A Suitable Flying School For Training

Perhaps you are not a qualified private pilot yet, but you want to get your private pilot’s license.  Certainly this is possible at Santa Barbara Airport.

There is one well-known and well-thought-of flying school at the airport, “Above All Aviation”.  There is also a paragliding school if that is something you fancy trying.

Above All Aviation opened in 2010, and has won several awards since then. The school offers pilot training for private pilot licenses, including ground school.

They also offer scenic tours, and have a full-time maintenance facility.  With 11 aircraft and 10 instructors, this should be a good place to learn to fly.

You can also do more advanced pilot training there, such as instrument ratings and Commercial Pilot’s Licences, if you decide to go on further after getting your Private Pilot’s License. This school is definitely recommended.

Questions To Ask Yourself Before Flying To Santa Barbara Airport


Many of these are questions you need to ask before every flight, particularly long flights.  But they are well worth repeating here.

1) Is It A Suitable Destination For You?

Santa Barbara Airport may be a good destination to visit, but is it suitable for you, at your level of experience?

It is not in and of itself a difficult airport to fly into, but it is right on the coast, and that means unpredictable winds at times, and often wind shear (the wind changing direction unexpectedly) as you are preparing to land.

If you don’t have much flying experience, it might be better to take a more experienced pilot or an instructor with you.  Remember, one of the well-known sayings in aviation is ”If there is any doubt, there is no doubt”.  This means that if you aren’t sure you can land there safely, then don’t go.

2) Is The Weather Suitable For Your Flight?

As with any flight, you need to check that the weather is suitable for your trip.  But this is even more important at an airport on the cast.

As well as unpredictable winds, you could encounter fog or low clouds, and you need to know about this in advance. Again, if you’re not sure, wait for a better day or take an instructor with you.

3) Have You Checked NOTAMs And Other Important Information

You need to check NOTAMS (Notices to Airmen) before every flight, but many of us forget and become a bit blasé after we’ve been flying for a while.

But you could come a cropper if you don’t do this!  When I flew to Santa Barbara Airport, I planned to follow the coast, which seemed really simple in terms of navigation.

But part way up the coast I was informed on the radio that an area of coastline was closed.  I had to either head out to sea for five miles, which I really didn’t fancy, or go inland.  Not a problem….except that it meant crossing some high mountains, on a hot day, in a low-powered small aircraft!

I took the inland route, and I made it safely.  But it would have been much better if I had known about this in advance.  Learn from my mistakes, and check before you go!

Other Things To Do Before Your Flight To Santa Barbara Airport

santa barbara airport

  • Plan your route and possible diversions – it should be obvious from my story above why this is important.
  • Phone the airport and find out what procedures are required – even if they are written down in flight guides, things can change.  You don’t want to get there and find that there has been an accident on the runway and the airport is closed, for example.
  • Take a map as well as your GPS – on the same flight I had a problem with my GPS.  I had to go back to basics and use a map and compass.  So make sure you have them with you and still remember how to use them!

Basic Information About Santa Barbara Airport

So you’ve decided to go to Santa Barbara Airport. Here is the basic information you need to know about before you fly there. As with a flight to any other airport, you need to digest this information and write it down before you arrange your flight in any detail.


Santa Barbara Airport has three runways:-

  • 7/25 (6052 x 150 ft.)
  • 15R/33L (4184 x 100 ft.)
  • 15L/33R (4180 x 75 ft.)

You will always be told the runway in use before you land, but it may be helpful to ask when you phone the airport.

Although it could change if the wind changes, it is unlikely to, and it helps to have visualized your route in and how you are going to land before you arrive. Remember: if you don’t like the runway in use, or the wind changes, it is always acceptable to ask to use another runway.

Tower and Radio Use

  • The Tower is open 6 am-11 pm local time
  • ATIS 132.65 805-967-0283.  ATIS stands for Automatic Terminal Information Service, and is a continuous broadcast of important information for pilots.  It is always recommended that you listen to the ATIS well in advance of your arrival, so you know what to expect.
  • Ground Frequency 121.7.  Tower Frequency 119.7.  You will be told which one of these to use, and when to switch from one to another, as you arrive.
  • ILS or LOC or RNAV (GPS) Runway 7.  If you don’t understand these, don’t worry!  They represent information that is more important for commercial or instrument rated pilots, and you probably won’t need it.
  • VOR or GPS Runway 25

You can buy Avgas at Santa Barbara Airport, and hangarage and tie-downs are also available.  Landing fees are charged; you will need to enquire about the amount, which is likely to depend on the type or size of aircraft.   Drone operation is not permitted at all at Santa Barbara Airport.

If you don’t have that much experience, this might all sound quite scary!  Don’t worry; the people at Santa Barbara Airport are friendly, and very willing to help low-hours pilots.  It is also unlikely to be excessively crowded there.

You do need to do your homework, check frequencies, and be aware of the hazards represented by coastal and/or mountain flying. But it is not like flying into Los Angeles International, for example, I have done that, and if you make mistakes there, you can easily be in big trouble!  But in Santa Barbara, it’s not a problem.

Having said that, do look out for crosswinds when you are near the sea.  To give an example of what can happen, here is one private pilot’s description of his flight into Santa Barbara Airport…

“I recalled my instructor telling me he had to request runway 25 due to the crosswind on runway 15 while on his solo cross country as a student pilot. I had a limit of a 5 knot crosswind, and runway 15 was going to be about a 9 knot crosswind. I checked runway 25 and the crosswind was 4 knots.

I requested to land on runway 25 due to the crosswind, and the controller cleared me number 2 for runway 25. The controller gave me an altitude of 1500 or above due to low-flying helicopters practicing in the area.

I had only landed on runway 25 once before and lined up too close to the runway on my downwind.

As soon as I turned to base I realized my mistake. I was able to turn to final and stay over the runway. Due to being 500 feet above pattern altitude on the downwind, I ended up too far down the runway and advised I was going around.”

(Private Pilot)

If something like this happens to you, don’t panic.  Just go around and give it another try.

Things To Do On Arrival At Santa Barbara Airport

santa barbara airport

So you’ve made it!  You’ve landed, booked in, paid the landing fee, and sorted out where to leave your aircraft safely. What now?

Unless you are researching flying schools, or on a business trip, or meeting friends as I was, you can now treat this as a normal day out.

Santa Barbara Airport has a number of shops and restaurants, and also taxis and good public transport. You can take yourself into the town, which is a lively university city, with many restaurants and upmarket boutiques.  It is known as a good place to go sailing or rent beach cruisers.

And of course Santa Barbara is best known for its beautiful beaches. Overall it is a nice place to fly to and spend an enjoyable day out, and hopefully learn something too.  And that is what private flying is all about.

Frequently Asked Questions – Santa Barbara Airport Guide

Question: Am I Allowed to Land at Santa Barbara Airport?

Answer: Yes, definitely.  The advantage of having a Private Pilots’ License is that you can land at almost any airport, although there are a few exceptions to this.  If in doubt, phone the airport and ask.

Question: Is a flight to Santa Barbara Airport Difficult?

Answer: No, it is not difficult, but it does require some advance planning.  It is also a good idea to have some idea of the possible hazards of coastal flying, such as crosswinds and wind shear.
If you don’t have much experience, it might be a good idea to take an instructor or a more experienced pilot with you.

Question: Do I Need to file a Flight Plan to Fly to Santa Barbara Airport?

Answer: It is not a legal requirement.  But it is always a good idea to file a flight plan, particularly if you are flying over water or mountains, and one or both of these is likely if you are flying to Santa Barbara!

Question: Can you fly drones to Santa Barbara Airport?

Answer:  No, drone operations in or near Santa Barbara Airport are strictly forbidden without prior permission from the FAA.


So there you have it – Santa Barbara Airport is a good place to fly to for a private pilot, and an excellent place to learn to fly.

But being a coastal airport, a certain amount of experience and care is required if you are to fly there safely.  So if in doubt, wait a while or take an instructor with you. And if you want to learn to fly there, Above All Aviation is based on the airfield and is recommended.

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