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Specifically, I'm referring to the takeoff attempt which led to this crash (video here). This took place on highway 124 in Winnie, TX. Apparently the aircraft had just finished serving as a float in a local parade, and the pilot opted to fly, rather than be towed, back to the airport.

Incredibly, there don't seem to have been any injuries.

In the video, you can see that the police have stopped traffic, but this article suggests the local authorities were not involved.

My question is, is this legal? From an FAA regulation standpoint, in particular, but if anyone knows the laws for this area of Texas, I'm interested in that as well. Are there any regulations concerning what a pilot can use for an impromptu runway, and what sort of (obstacle) clearances need to be observed? What sort of permissions does he need to use a public road?

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    $\begingroup$ Guy missed a successful take off by about a foot. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Oct 3, 2021 at 1:49
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    $\begingroup$ A tiny bit of right rudder would have kept them clear, but it was still not great judgement. $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Oct 3, 2021 at 13:10
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    $\begingroup$ In Germany (OK. it's not the USA) it would be forbidden: With exception of rescue aircraft (such as rescue helecopters) you need a permission of the LBA (the German counterpart of the FAA) to take off from any ground outside an airport. You would definitely not get a permission for taking off from a public road. And you would also not get a permission if there are obstacles next to the "runway" (as in the video you have linked). $\endgroup$ Oct 3, 2021 at 19:05
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    $\begingroup$ Vehicles that use the public roads have to be road legal in the first place, don't they? At least in Europe, airworthy != road legal. $\endgroup$
    – fraxinus
    Oct 3, 2021 at 20:23
  • $\begingroup$ Jeez. how did clipping the light pole (apparently with the tip of one of the left wings?) cause the plane to lose altitude and crash? Seems he could have just kept on going -- "The plane can be seen clipping a streetlight and then appears to strike cables holding traffic signal lights" Oh. Oopsie! $\endgroup$ Oct 6, 2021 at 19:08

4 Answers 4

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For this specific case, Texas laws prohibit overall the use of public roads for takeoff, still a municipality may issue an ordinance to allow some takeoffs from county roads, describing the specific procedure to be used.

The question boils down to whether such specific ordinance exists for this takeoff. A quick search on for the aircraft tail number and Chambers county ordinances doesn't return anything as of today. It's an offense unless specifically authorized, though the penalty, a fine between \$25 and \$200, doesn't seem to be a real deterrent.


FAA doesn't regulate off-airport operations

enter image description here

Private helipad in Oregon, source. Go there with Google Maps

Other entities can regulate or prohibit off-airport operations

  • The insurance may prohibit operations off-airport.

  • The State may prohibit the use of public land for specific activities, including for air operations.

  • Air operations may be prohibited for purposes of noise protection, natural world protection, etc, so that one's hobby doesn't prevent safety, peace and quite for others.

Whether taking off from a highway is allowed depends on the State.

Texas and some other States prohibit off-airport operations

Texas specifically prohibits using public roads for takeoff and landing for any flying object, manned or not:

A person commits an offense if the person takes off, lands, or maneuvers an aircraft, whether heavier or lighter than air, on a public highway, road, or street except [...]

Emergency-related landings are indeed never punished and are possible everywhere, and it is conceivable some takeoffs may be emergencies too, but likely not in the present case.

enter image description here

Emergency landing in Texas on Interstate 35, source

Other exceptions must be specifically allowed by a local law maker (commissioners court of a county) using an ordinance:

A commissioners court of a county may enact ordinances to ensure the safe use of county roads by aircraft. An ordinance may:

  • (1) limit the kinds of aircraft that may use the roads;
  • (2) establish the procedure that a pilot shall follow before using a road, including requiring the pilot to furnish persons with flags at both ends of the road to be used; or
  • (3) establish other requirements considered necessary for the safe use of the roads by aircraft.

It's possible the operation you saw had been allowed by such local ordinance.

Some States allow them by default

In contrast Montana allows landings and takeoffs in general, though they are still subject to a procedure:

Aircraft landings and takeoffs from public roads in this state are lawful if proper safety precautions, as approved by the governing jurisdiction of the roads, are taken prior to the landing or takeoff

enter image description here

Fields, Oregon, source. How to get there, including the road landing on Youtube


Of course using a private property is not allowed without prior consent of the owner in addition of regulations mentioned above.

More: Is It Legal To Land A Plane On A Road?

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    $\begingroup$ A fine between $25 and $200? Is that cheaper than taking off from an airport? $\endgroup$ Oct 4, 2021 at 2:10
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    $\begingroup$ @AdamBarnes All but the largest airports in the US are free to use. Some FBOs charge a handling fee, but it’s usually waived if you buy gas or other services from them. $\endgroup$
    – StephenS
    Oct 4, 2021 at 3:55
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    $\begingroup$ I feel like when you do a botched takeoff like this where you destroy a pair of traffic lights and utterly wreck your plane, it's going to cost A LOT more than 200 USD. $\endgroup$
    – Nzall
    Oct 4, 2021 at 14:30
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    $\begingroup$ What is the relevant definition of a "Public Road" though - if the road has been specifically closed by law-enforcement, does that make it okay? I ask that, because (in the UK) road-racing is specifically illegal, but only on open roads - temporarily close them officially and it is fine. $\endgroup$ Oct 5, 2021 at 11:24
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    $\begingroup$ RE "Texas specifically prohibit using public roads for takeoff for any flying object, manned or not:"-- would Texas consider a small lightweight radio-controlled model airplane to be an "aircraft"? Is there any precedent on this? Your statement seems to imply that such a thing would be prohibited from taking off or landing on public roads but I wonder if that position is really supportable. And what about a frisbee? $\endgroup$ Oct 6, 2021 at 12:50
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The FAA does not regulate where aircraft can take off and land. If you want a permanent airport or heliport they have requirements for safe approaches and landings, but only so it can be listed as a facility.

States and local authorities make laws where aircraft can takeoff and land. In Alaska use of roads is common, with appropriate consideration of traffic.

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ Indeed. I remember seeing signs on the parks highway cautioning cars to watch for aircraft entering the highway. Even as a pilot, that's not a sign I'm accustomed to seeing on a highway. - haha $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Oct 4, 2021 at 21:43
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    $\begingroup$ beautiful picture. Looks almost idyllic. $\endgroup$
    – lurscher
    Oct 5, 2021 at 3:02
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    $\begingroup$ @lurscher As what life might be like before somebody complained about everything. I like the pic at the beginning of the video which shows the pilot parked at the gas pump getting a fill up. $\endgroup$
    – Pilothead
    Oct 5, 2021 at 4:51
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As far as the FAA is concerned, you can take off from wherever you like. Otherwise seaplanes and helicopters wouldn't be terribly useful.

Local laws vary concerning public roads.

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There is a related case in Spain, a man with an Ultralight Autogyro run on the road towards a Gas Station to buy gasoline. He got a fine, even if the road was a common road, not a highway, where vehicles must be able to run faster than 60 km/h, and the machine run on its small wheels never faster than 20 km/ h. Mopeds, agriculture vehicles are allowed running slowly. The Spanish State is money-avid, and its personnel suffers a hard craving for having chances of applying sanctions, punishments. Blessings +

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    $\begingroup$ What was the motivation of the fine? We can imagine many reasons, including the lack of driving license or license plate, or driving under influence, or non valid insurance (I'd tend to bet on this one) $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Oct 6, 2021 at 13:15
  • $\begingroup$ No idea youtu.be/nErz9ugCmLA indicates just police action. btw: before 'Autogyro', ad of parts seller: 'AutoHero', sound same in Spanish La Guardia Cerril de Alicante unidad PEGASO denunció 2 infracciones de tráfico, 1 de seguridad aérea, al piloto de autogiro, español, 38 años, circuló en carretera para repostar. Agentes del PEGASO (Policía Especialista en Gestión Aeronáutica y de Seguridad Operacional) Alicante, identificaron y propusieron sanción a un piloto de autogiro, circuló varios km por carretera. 2 de septiembre 2021, carretera CV 815 Castalla (Alicante) Blessings + $\endgroup$
    – Urquiola
    Oct 8, 2021 at 23:17
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    $\begingroup$ Mopeds don't need a driver's license, but it is conceivable that an open propeller is too dangerous to be allowed in road. Salut + $\endgroup$
    – Urquiola
    Oct 8, 2021 at 23:18

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