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Two recent questions and their answers have raised a further question.

In Are there laws about how close military aircraft can fly to passenger jets, and are they enforced?, we learned that "the military can get as close to other aircraft as they damn well please, through a procedure called Military Assumes Responsibility for Seperation of Aircraft, or MARSA".

In Why are there NASA branded F/A-18s? we see a picture of closely flying planes, and a comment notes "NASA is a civilian agency".

Do the NASA planes fly under MARSA rules or another set of rules for civilian agencies? Are there other non-military agencies that fall under this rule too?

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Pilots are allowed to fly as close as they want to each other as long as all parties agree to it and feel safe doing so.

Air Traffic Control cannot guarantee separation for planes in formation flight,So this will only be done under VFR and in VMC, where pilots can maintain visual separation from each other.

Many stunt fliers are civilian pilots and will routinely fly in close formation as well.

Other notable example of civilian formation flight include Mythbusters testing airplane fuel efficiency in formation and Airbus' publicity stunt with 5 A350s

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  • $\begingroup$ Stunt flying didn't even cross my mind when I wrote this question - makes perfect sense, thanks :) $\endgroup$ – James Thorpe Apr 20 '15 at 9:15
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    $\begingroup$ note that military planes flying information will do so in IMC. the lead plane has the xponder code, and the other planes turn off their transponders. the followers need only be able to see each other. $\endgroup$ – rbp Apr 20 '15 at 14:35
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You already have a good answer on separation specifically, but it's worth noting that there are a few general rules about formation flights in 14 CFR 91:

The most specific formation rules are in 91.111:

§91.111 Operating near other aircraft.

(a) No person may operate an aircraft so close to another aircraft as to create a collision hazard.

(b) No person may operate an aircraft in formation flight except by arrangement with the pilot in command of each aircraft in the formation.

(c) No person may operate an aircraft, carrying passengers for hire, in formation flight.

Charity flights are exempt from air carrier (part 119) and drug/alcohol testing (part 120) requirements, but only if the flight is not a formation flight (among other conditions):

§91.146 Passenger-carrying flights for the benefit of a charitable, nonprofit, or community event.

[...]

(4) The flight is not an aerobatic or a formation flight;

You must provide formation details if you're filing a VFR flight plan:

§91.153 VFR flight plan: Information required.

(a) Information required. Unless otherwise authorized by ATC, each person filing a VFR flight plan shall include in it the following information:

[...]

(2) The type of the aircraft or, in the case of a formation flight, the type of each aircraft and the number of aircraft in the formation.

(3) The full name and address of the pilot in command or, in the case of a formation flight, the formation commander.

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    $\begingroup$ recheck that middle one. they are mostly exempt from xyz unless they are flying in formation. here's the part you omitted: "are not subject to the certification requirements of part 119 or the drug and alcohol testing requirements in part 120 of this chapter, provided the following conditions are satisfied" $\endgroup$ – Erich Apr 21 '15 at 14:08
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    $\begingroup$ @erich Your interpretation is more legally precise, but for practical purposes "You may not carry a passenger in formation flights if it's a charity event" is probably close enough (because if you do operate in a formation flight the magic exemption from Part 119 goes away, and most folks aren't going to go get an air carrier certificate just so they can go fly Young Eagles or a local fundraiser group in formation). $\endgroup$ – voretaq7 Apr 21 '15 at 19:36
  • $\begingroup$ @erich I updated it to clarify that point $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Apr 22 '15 at 15:43
  • $\begingroup$ Why are we even discussing the exemption for charity events? The question is about formation flying, and it simply can't be done on charity events. It sort of distracts from the actual question / answer. Also, I know that the regulation states it, but if you are going to call out the charity portion specifically, then it is a pretty important point that formation flying isn't allowed on commercial flights. $\endgroup$ – Lnafziger Apr 22 '15 at 16:55

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