Say you've got your own plane and take off and land from the same airport. Weather is good, fuel is good, etc...
What would be the restrictions for flying near urban places like a city in the United States?

I live near a bunch of sea-planes that take off and land from lakes encircled by high-rises. Never thought about it till now, but how is that and other private flying entities like news choppers and ad-banner planes governed?


1 Answer 1


This varies from country to country but here in the US the Federal Aviation Regulations define the minimum safe altitudes:

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.

In your case, the sea-planes can fly closer than regulated since it falls under the "Except when necessary for takeoff and landing" clause.

These minimums apply in all air spaces however different airspaces surrounding cities (typically Class B and Class C) may prevent you from ever getting within 1000ft (or even a few miles) of the city due to clearance. For example you can't get near a city under a bravo space without ATC clearance and even then you can't fly where you want like in other airspaces.

but how is that and other private flying entities like news choppers

News choppers and the like still must fly by these rules. They often compensate with bigger camera lenses. The somewhat exception to this rule is generally police, fire, and rescue/medical operation choppers/aircraft. This of course is taken on a case by case basis but ATC usually gives them precedent and clears them for whatever they ask within reason. I actually met a guy that was on the council that designed the Philadelphia Bravo Airspace. The airspace is specially designed so that the medical helicopters can take off and fly under the bravo shelf from any hospital in the city. They can do this and still be a safe distance from buildings as well.

and ad-banner planes governed?

Banner towing planes, like helicopters must also fly by these rules. Although they are not seen in cities all too often I generally see them at the beach. Although beaches are generally not defined as a congested area and generally the planes are flying over "open water" thus they must be only 500ft from the people on the beach (depending on how you interpret the law).

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    $\begingroup$ In the USA there is also the ubiquitous FAR 91.13 No person may operate an aircraft [....] in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another which may come into play under certain circumstances. $\endgroup$
    – voretaq7
    Commented Jul 28, 2016 at 20:16
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    $\begingroup$ I think it would improve the answer if you also included information about the various air spaces. $\endgroup$
    – OSUZorba
    Commented Jul 28, 2016 at 20:20
  • $\begingroup$ I have no idea what (a) is trying to say, but in layman's terms: 1000 ft for cities, and 500ft everywhere else? Regarding the other stuff, does that mean it's legal to paraglide in cities O_O? $\endgroup$
    – House3272
    Commented Jul 28, 2016 at 20:21
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    $\begingroup$ @OSUZorba How does airspace impact the minimum altitude? $\endgroup$
    – Steve Kuo
    Commented Jul 29, 2016 at 4:24
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    $\begingroup$ @stevekuo the question asks about restrictions flying near cities, the word altitude never appears in the question. Airspace, especially class B airspace, creates a lot of restrictions around many urban areas. $\endgroup$
    – OSUZorba
    Commented Jul 30, 2016 at 13:55

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