I haven't looked at the Grand Canyon on a sectional yet, but I know that it is definitely big enough (by far) so that someone could fly a plane under the level of the rim and stil meet all of clearance requirements for VFR flight.

Is it legal, and safe to take an airplane into the canyon?

  • $\begingroup$ anyone know the the minimum safe altitude for the area, my guess it is well above the rim $\endgroup$ – ratchet freak Aug 14 '14 at 16:11
  • $\begingroup$ Anecdote alert: Having learned to fly in SoCal it was discussed, and according to a few people its restricted along its length - the reason given was to protect the livelihood and safety of pleasure flights lest any private pilot within a day's outing range go for a pleasure cruise $\endgroup$ – Jamiec Aug 14 '14 at 16:13
  • $\begingroup$ Apparently it's legal if you're the President (or, at least, you can make it legal in that case.) A tour guide on a tour I took there a little over a year ago recalled seeing one of the VC-25s (yes, a 747) flying through the canyon when a President was visiting. IIRC, it was Clinton. $\endgroup$ – reirab Jan 30 '15 at 5:22

The answer is: no, normal flights are not allowed under the canyon rim.

If you look at the sectional chart, you see this notice:

Sectional Chart Note

Searching through the CFR (Title 14, Part 91) brings up this Special Federal Aviation Regulation No. 50-2 - Special Flight Rules in the Vicinity of the Grand Canyon National Park, AZ.

Ther is also Supbart U of Part 93.

The Subpart U regulations seem to be the most current applicable regulations (please correct me if I am wrong).

The rule applies to everything under 18,000 feet MSL within an area around the park (like the chart says).

Except in an emergency or if otherwise necessary for safety of flight, or unless otherwise authorized by the Flight Standards District Office for a purpose listed in 93.309, no person may operate an aircraft in the Special Flight Rules Area within the following flight-free zones:

It then describes the four zones: Desert View, Bright Angel, Toroweap/Shinumo, Sanup Flight-free Zone. You can't fly through these, but between them are "corridors" in which you are allowed to fly above a certain altitude. See this map for locations of the Flight-Free Zones and corridors.

There are also minimum sector altitudes for different areas, including the corridors, which are going to be the main thing preventing you from flying very low. The altitudes are different for commercial air tours versus transient and general aviation.


no person may operate an aircraft within 500 feet of any terrain or structure located between the north and south rims of the Grand Canyon.

There are also noise limits depending on the aircraft type.

For some info on the background of these rules, see this NPS study.

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  • $\begingroup$ Your link gives the altitude limit as 14,500 ft: Quote That airspace extending upward from the surface up to but not including 14,500 feet MSL. What is right, 14,500 or 18,000 ft? $\endgroup$ – Peter Kämpf Aug 14 '14 at 19:44
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    $\begingroup$ The linked map has the answer: Flights below 18,000 ft are restricted and the excluded areas (flight free zones) end at 14,500 ft. Also, seasonally the exclusion altitude can be raised to 18,000 ft (permanently, if the National Park Service has its way). $\endgroup$ – Peter Kämpf Aug 14 '14 at 20:46
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    $\begingroup$ I think the 18,000' notation basically means: "if you're going to be below 18,000', this chart is not for you; get the Grand Canyon chart which has all the details. $\endgroup$ – Edward Falk Sep 29 '15 at 23:22

It is generally not legal to fly into the Grand Canyon - there is a SFRA (Special Flight Rules Area) over much of the canyon which is designed to keep General Aviation traffic from annoying tourists (and away from the commercial air tour operators). For both GA and commercial tours there are altitude restrictions which keep flights well above the canyon rim.
(You can download a chart of the Grand Canyon SFRA from the FAA)

Were it legal it probably would not be the safest idea anyway: Inside the canyon there are strong, often unpredictable winds. The conditions would be similar to flying a mountain pass, but with substantially less clearance between your wings and the canyon wall in some places.

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Safe maybe, but not legal. Not anymore - the helicopter tours did fly into the canyon years ago, but it became illegal in 1987, prompted by a mid-air collision in 1986. A Special Federal Aviation Regulations (SFAR) was adopted which regulates traffic below 14,500 ft MSL. This height limit can be raised seasonally to 18.000 ft, and only commercial tour operators are allowed to fly below. For GA traffic three small north-south lanes allow crossing at 10,500 (southbound) rsp. 11,500 ft (northbound). Now even the number of fixed wing and helicopter tour flights is restricted to reduce noise.

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