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Is access to GA airports 24/7?

I always thought it was. Every airport I've visited had gate-codes to open gates after hours.

But I recently started planning a flight to Salina, KS (KSLN), and the local FBO told me field access shuts down entirely at 10p.m.

As a transient flight, I'd have no way back to my plane after that. I'm skeptical, as I believed airport access was 24/7.

Am I just completely mistaken in that belief?

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    $\begingroup$ According to the AOPA directory, KSLN is under security directive SD-8G, i.e. the TSA limits access to the apron. I guess (but don't know) that you need an escort to/from your aircraft, so if no authorized person is available then there's no access. Otherwise, access times are totally up to the local airport management. $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Jun 20 '16 at 18:28
  • $\begingroup$ Related: "Airport Compliance Manual" although it seems very much devoid of information regarding access (even though it has a section called "Airport Noise and Access Restrictions). $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Jun 20 '16 at 19:08
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The general answer is that the airport manager is in charge of ground access (unless the TSA is involved; see below) and individual FBOs can open or not whenever they like. There are no standard federal rules for the same reason that there aren't any for when gas stations should open and close: they're private (or state-owned) businesses.

So before going somewhere new it's always good to call and ask about opening hours, access etc. If there are multiple FBOs at the field, you can call them all: one might be open 24 hours a day even if another one isn't.

One specific point about Salina is that the TSA may be limiting access. The AOPA airport directory says that KSLN is under security directive SD-8G, i.e. the TSA limits access to the apron. That means you might need an authorized escort - most likely someone from the FBO - to and from your aircraft. If the FBO shuts at night there may be no one there, but FBOs in general are usually good at making special arrangements if needed.

And although your question seems to be about ground access, I guess it's worth stating the obvious: airports are accessible 24x7 from the air. Nothing stops you landing at 3am, filling up at the self-service pumps and then taking off again. But watch out for local practices like voluntary noise abatement curfews, e.g. at KPDK:

Pilots are encouraged not to fly between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Due to FAA Regulations, PDK cannot implement a mandatory curfew at this time.

It's still legal to land or depart there during curfew hours, but you'll really annoy the airport management, FBOs, and local pilots who have to deal with the complaints from local residents.

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  • $\begingroup$ I guess ultimately I confused the ability to land and takeoff there 24/7 with the ability to have access to the field 24/7. It doesn't seem terribly productive to have landing/departing rights if you can't actually leave the field. Sadly, it seems I will have to leave my friend's wedding early to make the airports 10p.m. curfew. $\endgroup$ – abelenky Jun 20 '16 at 21:17
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    $\begingroup$ @abelenky I wouldn't give up just yet, I've never heard of any airport denying a pilot access to his aircraft because "we're closed". Did they explicitly say that pilots cannot get to their aircraft after 10pm? And did you call the airport manager as well as the FBO? $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Jun 20 '16 at 21:35
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    $\begingroup$ Very often, FBO's will open after hours for a flight which need to depart (for a fee, of course). Just call them and ask about after hours access! $\endgroup$ – Lnafziger Jun 21 '16 at 5:02
  • $\begingroup$ I emailed the Airport Manager, who referred me back to the FBO. The FBO will let me back in, for a $100 after-hours fee, (which is a lot relative to the rest of the flight which is just a short C172 hop) $\endgroup$ – abelenky Jun 21 '16 at 16:49
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    $\begingroup$ How high are the fences? $\endgroup$ – Mike Brass Dec 11 '17 at 2:37
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This will vary from field to field and I do not think there is a regulation on the matter. You may want to call the airport manager if there is one that is not at the FBO. If there are multiple FBO's on the field try another one, they may have 24/7 access.

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Define "accessible". If you need ground access to your aircraft, that depends on gate code / FBO availability (or whether the FBO is willing to give you access through a code-locked side door).

If you mean accessible for arrivals and departures, there will usually be a note in the Chart Supplement (formerly the AF/D) as to what the restrictions (if any) are. For example, KSNA (Orange County in SoCal) has a restriction of "WHEN ATCT CLSD NO LCL TRNG OR TOUCH & GO OPNS."

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