The FAA expressly forbids flying within 500' of people, structures, etc...:

§ 91.119 Minimum safe altitudes: General. Except when necessary for takeoff or landing, no person may operate an aircraft below the following altitudes:




(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.

It's hard to find much wiggle room in the plain meaning of this statement. However I feel like there would be an exception when either the structures in question are your own (or otherwise authorized by the owner) or the people on the ground are somehow participating in the flight (such as judges for a flour drop).

Nonetheless, no exception exists in 91.119(c). Is there an exception anywhere else, perhaps in a LOI or AC?

  • $\begingroup$ Owning a structure doesn’t make you less likely to hit it. If you can show a good reason to get closer and adequate clear space nearby to land in the event of engine failure, you should be able to get a waiver under 91.905. $\endgroup$ – StephenS May 4 at 21:22
  • $\begingroup$ IMHO, the FAA doesn't particularly care if you hit things. It cares if you hit things and as a result other people care. Many of the FAA regulations are built around ensuring that public outcry does not bring about a congressional act which constrains the FAA to act in a certain manner. For instance, practice as much aerobatics as you want, so long as you don't scare the public or hurt anyone aside from yourself. (This opinion is motivated in largest part by a direct 2015 conversation with FAA Administrator M. Huerta concerning drone safety and integration into the NAS.) $\endgroup$ – Kenn Sebesta May 4 at 21:53

See 91.905, List of rules subject to waivers:

91.119 Minimum safe altitudes: General.

In other words, 91.905 allows the FAA to issue a waiver to 91.119, e.g. for airshows. The form for requesting a waiver is here, and the FAA can set more or less whatever conditions they like for granting one.

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    $\begingroup$ Would a pilot require/receive a standing waiver for close-proximity flight near authorized structures, i.e. cropdusting on one's own farm? Relatedly, what about landing near a campsite out in bush country? $\endgroup$ – Kenn Sebesta May 4 at 20:27
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    $\begingroup$ @KennSebesta Cropdusting is a specific activity with its own rules. And landing is already an exception to 91.119. The real bottom line is 91.13: even with a waiver 'careless and reckless' still applies. $\endgroup$ – Pondlife May 4 at 20:41
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    $\begingroup$ @KennSebesta - for landing near a campsite, see FAR 91.119(c), specifically "sparsely" populated areas ( 500 feet away from structures, no altitude restriction [just a 500 foot bubble]). Crop dusting, see FAR part 137.49 - "Notwithstanding part 91 of this chapter, during the actual dispensing operation,...an aircraft may be operated over other than congested areas below 500 feet above the surface and closer than 500 feet to persons, vessels, vehicles, and structures, if the operations are conducted without creating a hazard to persons or property on the surface". (reg. shortened to fit space $\endgroup$ – 757toga May 4 at 20:46
  • $\begingroup$ @KennSebesta - also, as Pondlife notes, takeoff/landing is excepted from 91.119 for obvious reasons. $\endgroup$ – 757toga May 4 at 20:50
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    $\begingroup$ @KennSebesta - If you are landing, it does not matter if the campsite is within 500’. All of the altitude and distance requirements are applicable except when taking off and/or landing. Even at some small paved or grass airstrips, there may be people, vehicles and/or structures less than 500’ below or around the aircraft. A mower mowing the grass at the AER threshold is a good example. ATC at a controlled field may just give you a warning of their presence and still clear you to land. $\endgroup$ – Dean F. May 4 at 21:40

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