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What are the Minimum altitudes for a helicopter?

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§ 91.119 Minimum safe altitudes: General.


Except when necessary for takeoff or landing, no person may operate an aircraft below the following altitudes:


a. Anywhere. An altitude allowing, if a power unit fails, an emergency landing without undue hazard to persons or property on the surface.


b. Over congested areas. Over any congested area of a city, town, or settlement, or over any open air assembly of persons, an altitude of 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet of the aircraft.


c. Over other than congested areas. An altitude of 500 feet above the surface, except over open water or sparsely populated areas. In those cases, the aircraft may not be operated closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.


d. Helicopters. Helicopters may be operated at less than the minimums prescribed in paragraph B or C of this section if the operation is conducted without hazard to persons or property on the surface. In addition, each person operating a helicopter shall comply with any routes or altitudes specifically prescribed for helicopters by the Administrator.


§ 91.13 Careless or reckless operation.


a. Aircraft operations for the purpose of air navigation. No person may operate an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another.


b. Aircraft operations other than for the purpose of air navigation. No person may operate an aircraft, other than for the purpose of air navigation, on any part of the surface of an airport used by aircraft for air commerce (including areas used by those aircraft for receiving or discharging persons or cargo), in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another.


§ 91.126 Operating on or in the vicinity of an airport in Class G airspace.


2. Each pilot of a helicopter or a powered parachute must avoid the flow of fixed-wing aircraft.

Edited by Hedge36
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In short:


1: Altitude in which a "safe" landing can be made should a power plant failure happen that won't harm persons or property.


2: Altitude in which there won't be a hazard to persons or property.


3: Comply with routes and altitudes as prescribed by the administrator. An example would be letter of agreements.


Keep in mind you can get caught with 91.13 if the FAA or someone on the ground feels you were acting careless. Just about anything not covered in other parts of the FAR's the FAA can get you under part 91.13.


My take is that unless you have a reason to be low why not fly higher? This gives you more time and options should something happen. It also will keep you out of the wire environment.


Note: This is only for part 91. If you are going to be operating under a different part such as 135 then it will be a little different.

Edited by JDHelicopterPilot
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Note: This is only for part 91. If you are going to be operating under a different part such as 135 then it will be a little different.


Yeah, like 300 feet....otherwise I try to keep at least an inch between the skids and land..otherwise a slight downdraft and I could be trespassing.


Ok, think of it this way. There is the basic speed law. If you get in an accident, chances are I'm giving you a ticket for violation of this law. IF you're driving faster than you can safely stop, youre in violation. Same with ships, if anything happens, or someone complains, you best be able to explain the who whats and why's. If you cant explain it to the FAA, you shouldnt be doing it....so jump up to 500 or 1000 AGL where the rest of us fly..



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I always wished the FAA or HAI or AOPA or someone provided case studies of pilots subjected to enforcement actions for violating either of these FARs, especially 91.119 in a helicopter. I've never heard of a heli being violated for this ( im sure its happened) but the FAA has a form for reporting low flying aircraft and it says in big bold letters how heli's are exempt from the general 500 ft altitude restriction.

How is an administrative law judge supposed to decide if you could've auto'd into an abandoned parking lot or field in an urban area? Or for that matter if even a perfectly executed full down could be considered posing a hazard to that property? The ground is usually someone's property.

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Heliboy you are treading in the dreaded grey area of the FAR's.


For example many of us have flown in Los Angeles. Some areas downtown are areas I would dread having an engine failure. Sure there may be a vacant lot or something for me to auto to. But lets be real, more than likely it's going to end with some bent metal or damage to property. That is if I miss all the wires on the way into my spot. If God forbid something did happen and it didn't turn out well. I am sure I would be cited for flying to low or not having a suitible landing area. Just as Goldy said so well.


So, in areas like that I will still try to fly direct to my destination but I may hop skip a little if you know what I mean. If there is a larger spot that is safer just a little off my right I will make sure my flight path is such I will be able to make it there.


I have learned enough over the years to the point that I will always stack as many cards in my favor. This includes flying higher in areas that are congested or with limited landing sites.

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All good points JD and I agree completely. I guess I take it for granted that good pilots all do that stuff and Im sure everyone here is a good pilot.


My fear concerning these issues is not based on flying in those areas by choice per se, or in a situation in which Im just flying from A to B. Im thinking more about photo flights and utility patrols (yeah lines go thru cities, and yeah the linemen want to see them). Again I fault the FAA (big suprise) with not providing clarity so operators end up just doing what they have to do and feeling like if they call their FSDO some suit whos more concerned with American Airlines on time rating than his business will tell him 'no' offhand.

This all is no excuse I know.....just venting but it is our licenses and thus investments on the line...gray area or not.

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I know it's irrelevant fixed wing stuff, but AOPA pilot has an article this month in their legal column on how the FAA defines congested and other than congested areas, and the legal implications for pilots cited for busting 91.119. In short, the NTSB/FAA don't define these areas, and if you're below 1000' and cited for flying too low, you were in a congested area. The article concludes:


"Until we get better guidance, pilots should be mindful of the history that any low flying allegations will ultimately be decided by the NTSB in favor of the FAA, after the fact, and on a case-by-case basis. To the extent practical, stay high."

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In my humble oppinion, 500 agl is a pretty good rule of thumb, that way your at your minimum safe auto altitude, plus your flying just high enough not to get yourself in trouble. Just dont fly around big towers. Oh ya, and not over a city.

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