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From what I understand, the FAA doesn't consider anything in ground effect to be "flying", even if it's not actually touching the ground. This means, for instance, that the FAA wouldn't have jurisdiction over hovercraft, and it's what allows helicopters to hover-taxi around without having to contact the tower for takeoff clearance.

But I can't find any official rules stating this. I've found several assertions that it's true, but nothing official to back them up.

So, is there some rule in the FARs, or an official FAA publication, or something, that states this?

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  • $\begingroup$ I can't imagine any situation where flying in ground effect would not be considered "flying." Can you provide a couple of the "assertions" you refer to in your question? $\endgroup$
    – user22445
    Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 22:51
  • $\begingroup$ @757toga Well, there's this news article. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 23:22
  • $\begingroup$ Interesting, thanks. $\endgroup$
    – user22445
    Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 23:43
  • $\begingroup$ That's any interesting article but I question that these WIG "are already operating between mainland Italy and the west coast islands of Ponza and Ventotene". All I found was announcements from 2019 that they want to acquire them and that the service "could be up and running within a couple of years"... $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 7, 2022 at 15:21
  • $\begingroup$ @user2705196 The question isn't about whether these specific aircraft/boats/whatever are actually in service. The question is about whether "in ground effect" counts as "flying" from an FAA legal perspective. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 7, 2022 at 16:43

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I cannot attest to what the FAA considers "flight" per the title question, but I believe that their jurisdiction (as well as the means and level of control they exert on aircraft) is less dependent on a legalistic or technical definition of this term, and more about categories and classes of what it considers “aircraft” as well as where such craft actually operate. Let's consider the two examples you offered:

Hovercraft - Physically disconnected from the earth as they ride on a cushion air, they are technically "flying". However, they are not classified as aircraft by the FAA and the physical space they operate in is the same realm as boats, cars, trains, and other surface vehicles. The FAA would have no more interest or need to regulate their activities than they would other modes of transportation that operate outside the National Airspace System.

Helicopters - While "air" taxiing, helicopters are also flying per the technical definition. However, air taxi is necessary for helicopters equipped with skids because they don't have rolling wheels to maintain contact with the ground as they move along the surface of an airfield. Since FAA controllers at a tower controlled airport wouldn't necessarily want them to simply takeoff and depart from ramp parking, some means is needed to needed to allow them to move to the runway or other designated takeoff and landing area. As they move along a designated taxiway mere feet from the ground it makes more sense for this movement to be monitored and controlled by the same person controlling fixed wing aircraft, despite the fact that they are actually "flying". (i.e. they aren't talking to a ground controller because they are not considered to be flying, it is because they are on a taxiway!) There is no logical reason to talk to a tower controller until they are ready to enter or depart the tower controlled air traffic pattern.

In summary, while the FAA recognizes rotorcraft as a category and class of aircraft in CFR 61.5, it does not consider hovercraft to be aircraft for regulatory purposes. While you would be free to log your experience driving a hovercraft it would not count as flight time in the eyes of the FAA.

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    $\begingroup$ Logically, I think you're right. But the law can, at times, have only a passing relationship with concepts like "logic". I'm specifically looking for official rules or rulings. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 2:02
  • $\begingroup$ @HiddenWindshield you should read Oregon's distracted driving law; I think you will want to replace "only a passing" with "no." $\endgroup$
    – Someone
    Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 5:24
  • $\begingroup$ @HiddenWindshield, see my latest edit. Hovercraft are not a category and class of aircraft. Excluded from FAA regulation by omission. That should shut the door in your question. (Thanks 757togo for pointing that out in your other comments…) $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 15:30
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelHall "If a word is not defined in legislation, the ordinary meaning applies". This helicopter isn't technically airworthy. Could I legally hover-taxi it to the mechanic's shop without getting a Ferry Permit? Logically speaking, yes, because I'm not actually "flying" it, I'm taxiing it. But unless the word "flying" is legally defined, then the ordinary definition of "moving through the air under your own power" would be applied, which would make the answer "no". $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 18:11
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    $\begingroup$ @HiddenWindshield, "THE LAW" cannot detail every possible exclusion. If something is not included, it is excluded. I know that you know that, but if you need more affirmation than that I don't think you will be satisfied with any answer. Good luck. (maybe ask on Law SE?) $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 22:02

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