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I'm referring to this incident: https://twitter.com/Dacheslow/status/1267638389421072384

Some people were saying it was illegal under FAA rules to fly that low and close to a crowd, and also to use a medical-designated helicopter to carry out police activity. Can anyone weigh in?

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I don’t know exactly where in DC that happened, though I would say it’s highly probable that it was a public or law enforcement helicopter, or a lifeflite helo as virtually nothing else is allowed to fly VFR in the FRZ over DC without a lot of planning and waivers.

Helicopters, under general operation, are going to have to conform with §91.119(a), (d)(1), which state you must operate the helicopter at an altitude that, if a power unit were to fail, a landing can be made without creating an undue hazard to persons or property on the surface. In the case of the helo in question, it’s a Eurocopter EC 135, which is a multi engine aircraft. I don’t have the performance charts for that helo handy, but I believe it either can hover OGE or perform and aurtorotation landing at near standstill should an engine fail.

There’s also the fact that, as many cities right now are under a state of emergency, public vehicles may be forgoing a lot of regulations on flight ops for that reason. The helo may also be looking for a place to land and hoping the people below can make a space for it. I’m not sure here.

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    $\begingroup$ It's a military helicopter, it isn't subject to FAA regulations... $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Jun 2 at 18:04
  • $\begingroup$ Police helicopters are also not subject to FAA regulations. $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Jun 4 at 3:11
  • $\begingroup$ That’s false they both use the national airspace system, and while they do have certain operations that allow them extensions, they are both required to follow NAS rules. $\endgroup$ – Carlo Felicione Jun 4 at 13:49
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To add more detail to Carlo Felicione’s answer and Ron Beyer’s comment, Part 91.119(d)(1) states, “A helicopter may be operated at less than the minimums prescribed in paragraph (b) or (c) of this section [Minimum safe altitudes: General], provided each person operating the helicopter complies with any routes or altitudes specifically prescribed for helicopters by the FAA”.

So yes, helicopters can fly below the level of buildings, and do so more than people realize. The trick is to get clearance from ATC only in areas that would require such clearance.

Someone else may want to weigh in on the use of aircraft marked for medical use in police activities. I can not find anything in FAA regulations to prohibit this. I doubt that there is anything in international regulations to prohibit police use like there is for using it as a military combatant.

Using military equipment designated for the National Guard gets around any provision of the Federal Posse Comitatus Act. Also, the President can invoke The Insurrection Act of 1807 to mobilize federal and federalized troops when deemed necessary.

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