# What is the minimum allowed altitude for helicopters over a residential area in the US?

I observed a helicopter hovering over a residential area/houses for more than 20-30 minutes. I would guesstimate about 500 feet altitude or more for the helicopter. The low altitude and long duration of the hovering created lots of what I would call unpleasant "noise pollution".

What is the FAA minimum allowed altitude for helicopters over a residential area?

re "possible duplicate":

@fooot I already googled and read that entire question. That question is asking about "when is a Helicopter legally allowed by FAA to fly below the FAA's minimum allowed safe altitude?" and that question is even more specific to a specific situation observed by the OP. They both have wording that talks about minimum altitude but are not the same question.

As others have noted in the comments, they agree this is not a duplicate.

• – fooot Apr 20 '16 at 22:29
• @fooot I already googled and read that entire question. That question is asking about "when is a Helicopter legally allowed by FAA to fly below the FAA's minimum allowed safe altitude?" and that question is even more specific to a specific situation observed by the OP. They both have wording that talks about minimum altitude but are not the same question. – Trevor Boyd Smith Apr 20 '16 at 22:37
• I think @TrevorBoydSmith has a point. This is a more general question about what is allowed in normal circumstances, not during an emergency. The question isn't a duplicate. – Jay Carr Apr 20 '16 at 22:50
• Agree - not a duplicate. This is actually a much better question than the other one is. – Ralph J Apr 21 '16 at 1:12
• unless necessary to safeguard human life @user3344003 see my comment on @rbp's answer for a link. – Steve Apr 21 '16 at 1:27

It depends on where it is.

A residential area/houses may or not be "congested" -- that term is not defined. But we typically use 500 feet for helis.

When hovering in an area for a specific purpose, such as photo shoots or other surveillance operation, or for some other operational reason, then we can use a lower altitude.

Sec. 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, powered parachutes, and weight-shift-control aircraft. If the operation is conducted without hazard to persons or property on the surface--

(1) A helicopter may be operated at less than the minimums prescribed in paragraph (b) or (c) of this section, provided each person operating the helicopter complies with any routes or altitudes specifically prescribed for helicopters by the FAA; and

(2) A powered parachute or weight-shift-control aircraft may be operated at less than the minimums prescribed in paragraph (c) of this section.]

• c) the aircraft may not be operated closer than 500 feet to any...structure. d1) except provided each person operating the helicopter complies with any routes or altitudes specifically prescribed for helicopters by the FAA. Are there examples of what "routes or altitudes" are prescribed by the FAA? – Steve Apr 21 '16 at 0:33
• Yes there are heli charts for major metro areas, like NY and LA faa.gov/air_traffic/flight_info/aeronav/digital_products/vfr/… – rbp Apr 21 '16 at 0:35
• Also, according to this answer, 14 CFR 91.119 says about issuing a waiver: When issuing the waiver, the altitude requested should be an absolute minimum, but may not be less than 500 feet from persons or property, unless necessary to safeguard human life – Steve Apr 21 '16 at 0:36
• Great, thanks for the link, @rbp – Steve Apr 21 '16 at 0:40
• i see they can be viewed in skyvector as well, just not easy to find skyvector.com/… – rbp Apr 21 '16 at 0:42