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Thread: Part 103 "congested" & Part 91?

  1. #11
    Dana's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    FWIW, here are some notes I made on the subject while researching the subject some years ago after a similar discussion on the PPG list:


    (a) Congested Area. The congested nature
    of an area is defined by what exists on the surface, not
    the size of the area. While the presence of the nonparticipating
    public is the most important determination
    of congested, the area may also be congested with
    structures or objects. An area considered congested for
    airplane operations could be equally congested for
    helicopters. If an airplane flying over a congested area
    at less than 1,000 feet above ground level (AGL) is in
    violation of 14 CFR 91.119(b), the area may also be
    a congested area for a helicopter conducting externalload
    operations. However, the most important word in
    this concept is over. Helicopters can operate over relatively
    small uncongested areas because of their maneuvering

    NTSB Order No. EA-4188, about low flying over a highway:

    ...The deputy sheriff riding in the passenger seat
    testified that the aircraft operated over the freeway for at
    least 30 seconds, at an altitude of 75-100 feet....
    ...In the Board's view, even if Interstate 5, a major
    California freeway, is not "bumper to bumper" on a late Saturday
    afternoon, moderate traffic in every lane still renders it
    "congested," for purposes of the regulation. See also
    Administrator v. Dutton, NTSB Order No. EA-3204 (1990)(Moderate
    traffic on a highway at 12:55 p.m. is a congested area for
    purposes of the minimum safe altitude regulation).9

    ...the Shepard Mesa subdivision -- comprised of a minimum of
    20 houses, in an area approximately .5 mi. x .66 mi.7 -- would
    qualify as a congested area.... "the aircraft flew at least as low as
    300 feet."
    DMH note: .33 square miles = 211 acres, average 10 acre lots (!)

    "congested area" means in relation to a city, town or settlement, an area substantially used for residential, commercial or recreational purposes without adequate safe forced landing areas"
    DMH note: Not U.S., but interesting that other countries DO define it.

    There is no regulatory definition of 'congested area'. Administrative case law has determined what is congested on a case-by-case basis. [Case references are available on request]). The public should be aware that an area does not have to be completely free of persons or properties to be considered noncongested. Additionally, it is possible that small, noncongested areas as small as an acre or two may allow aerobatics to be performed without violating 91.303's stipulations.

    from, a discussion of prposed new European regulations:
    "Hostile environments," as defined under JAR-OPS 3.480, include areas where "a safe forced landing cannot be accomplished because the surface is inadequate"; where there is "an unacceptable risk of endangering persons or property on the ground"; and "those parts of a congested area without adequate safe forced landing areas."...

    "Congested areas," as defined in JAR-OPS 3, are essentially any densely populated town or city where no open spaces exist to permit a safe emergency landing in the event of an engine failure.

    At The Hague meeting, industry and regulatory representatives agreed that the "congested area" concept is made redundant by the distinction between "hostile" and "non-hostile" environments...

    Another concept created by JAR-OPS 3 was that of "exposure times." Performance Class 1, Category A helicopters can fly over hostile and congested areas, but JAR-OPS 3 allows Performance 2, Category A helicopters to fly over hostile, non-congested areas with an exposure time, the length of which depends on a target engine failure probability of 5 x 10-8, according to Jim Lyons, secretary of the JAA’s Helicopter Subcommittee and a CAA official in Britain.

    This translates, in practical terms, to exposures ranging from a few seconds to several minutes.

    * * * * *

    Unfortunately, the phrase "congested area of a city, town, or settlement, or over any open air assembly of persons" has not yet been specifically defined by the FAA. The FAA has stated in a 1979 Legal Opinion that it will be determined on a case-by-case basis. Below is a copy of the Opinion--note the FAR references have changed.


    "In response to your letter dated August 28, 1979, and subsequent telephone conversation, we offer the following answers to your three questions. The facts on which our interpretations are based are as follows:
    A fixed wing aircraft operating at an altitude of 600 feet flew directly over a populated subdivision of Prince William County, Virginia. The subdivision consisted of at least 40 residential homes on one acre lots. While operating in this area, the aircraft made a number of steep turns over one of these houses.
    1. What is the interpretation of the term "congested area of a city, town or settlement" as that term is used in Section 91.79(b) of the FARs?
    The meaning of the term "congested area" is determined on a case-by-case basis. It first appeared in the Air Commerce Regulations of 1926. No abstract regulatory definition has yet been developed. However, the following guidelines indicate the interpretations of the Civil Aeronautics board (now National Transportation Safety Board) in attempting to give meaning to the term.
    a. The purpose of the rule is to provide minimum safe altitudes for flight and to provide adequate protection to persons on the ground. Thus, it distinguishes flight over sparsely settled areas as well as large metropolitan areas from low flying aircraft. Thus, size of the area is not controlling, and violations of the rule have been sustained for operation of aircraft: (i) over a small congested area consisting of approximately 10 houses and a school (Allman, 5 C.A.B. 8 (1940)); (ii) over campus of a university (Tobin, 5 C.A.B. 162, 164(1941); (iii) over a beach area along a highway, and (iv) over a boy's camp where there were numerous people on the docks and children at play on shore.
    b. The presence of people is important to the determination of whether a particular area is "congested." Thus, no violation was found in the case of a flight over a large shop building and four one-family dwellings because, in the words of the CAB examiner, "it is not known (to the court) whether the dwellings were occupied." In that case, the area surrounding the buildings was open, flat and semiarid.
    c. The term has been interpreted to prohibit overflights that cut the corners of large, heavily congested residential areas.
    As made clear in FAR 91.79, the congested area must be an area of a city, town, or settlement.
    2. What is the interpretation of the term "sparsely populated areas" as contained in Section 91.79(c)?
    While this term is not expressly defined, we can conclude that it is something other than a congested area under Section 91.79(a). A subdivision of at least 40 occupied residential homes on adjacent one acre lots in Price William County, VA, would not be considered a sparsely populated area. Such a subdivision would well constitute a "settlement" under the rule.

    Please feel free to contact us if we can be of further assistance.


    Acting Assistant Chief Counsel
    Regulation and Enforcement Division
    Office of the Chief Counsel"

  2. #12

    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    Thank you for compiling this. In many ways, it boils down to "don't be a showoff, an idiot, and/or an ass".

  3. #13
    Sam Buchanan's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2011
    Quote Originally Posted by Ken Finney View Post
    Thank you for compiling this. In many ways, it boils down to "don't be a showoff, an idiot, and/or an ass".
    And that is the bottom line when it comes to ULs coexisting with "real" aircraft and the general public (and the FAA!!).

    Act like an aviator, fly like an aviator, know the regs like an aviator, sound like an aviator on a radio when flying near an airport......and we will be considered as aviators.

    We continue to pay the price for the sins of a minority of UL drivers. Ultralight aircraft have never been the source of the "ultralight problem", most folks think they are kinda cool. But when a few fools make a nuisance of themselves while driving ULs all that goodwill evaporates.
    Last edited by Sam Buchanan; 08-04-2014 at 12:04 PM.
    Sam Buchanan
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  4. #14

    Join Date
    Jul 2014
    dover tn
    look the part , act the part , be the part

    it helps if one can maneuver and land with a wee bit of elegance
    Last edited by mrbarry; 08-07-2014 at 11:19 PM.

  5. #15

    Join Date
    Oct 2011
    If you land a helicopter off airport where people can see it, they will usually call 911 to report.
    I know a helicopter owner that calls the local 911 first to report his landing activity location. He has an ongoing relation with the sheriff to help them with search and rescue when needed. I guess that helps.
    But in general, landing around people is problematic.

  6. #16
    Dana's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    Yes, I've had people call 911 several times when I was flying my PPG from a new location. In all cases the cops that showed up were friendly and even interested once I explained what I was doing and that it was legal.

  7. #17
    Well said!

  8. #18
    Mike Switzer's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    Central Illinois
    Quote Originally Posted by mrbarry View Post
    i saw a guy flying what i think was a r22 out of a +rural king+ [ farm supply ] parking lot on a hot day in a congested area.
    RK owns a R22, they use it to visit the stores around here a lot. They also have a King Air & something else I cant remember right now.

  9. #19
    Join Date
    Dec 2016
    Bumble**** Egypt, Joja
    I would argue, if nobody is hurt by you flying any distance away from anything, no crime has been commited. Anyone can write you a fine or charge you with anything, but it's a jury that decides, not the law, nor FAA wording in any paragraph anywhere.

    A semi truck going 55mph in the opposite direction in the other lane from you on any two lane highway, while you are going 55mph and buckled in (or like me, on a motorbike), is about 100x more dangerous and a threat to the nebulous idea of "public safety" than someone flying 500 feet at 35mph over a school yard full of children. A 110 mph net aggregate collision with anything will kill you instantly; an engine out in an ultralight over a school yard and you glide to a safe landing with a non-spinning propellor in an empty baseball field, with no harm done to anyone but egg on your own face.

    Semi-trucks and other cars pass each other a thousand times a second around the world.... it's that common.... and for the most part, without incident.... on public roads, for all the public to enjoy (the public being an interesting legal concept all unto its own - you don't even have to be a citizen to be the public... foreigners can use them just as well (as you can you use roads when you are in foreign countries), and public things (such as roads or public buildings or lands) are not "owned" the state, contrary to popular opinon, but by an almost undefined construct called "the public" that probably goes back to Roman times or older.... "for the use and benefit of all humanity"). The sky is the same... unless and until you run into something, or be a totally annoying douche... (for example, driving the wrong way in traffic on a road) then no harm, no foul. Even those yellow lines on the road, the stop sign, the traffic light... they are there as a helpful guide for everyone, not an absolute brick wall you can't cross, or drive through, when your out in the desert and there is absolutely no other traffic around.

    The skies are a commons for everyone to enjoy. Let's keep it that way. Stop penciling imaginary absolutist lines in the sky, or yellow splotches on maps, and creating crimes where they do not exist. Unless (or until) you hurt someone, no crime has been committed. I'm on the jury and I determine what's right or wrong, not a law or paragraph written by anybody anywhere.

    My great grandfather flew P-39's, P-47's, and P-38s and got shot up to defend freedom (or I prefer to think, he chose it because it was the lesser of two evils at the time), and it's sad that people just do not care about sticking up for freedom at all anymore, but are extremely compliant and will bend over backwards to live in fear and blindly obey anything they are told by anyone or read anywhere.

    My own personal anecdote:

    I remember when I was a little kid, I must of been in 7th grade. I went to a school which was very polarized... you had the snotty kids clic and then you had everyone else. I was one of the "everyone else". Anyway, one day one of the snotty boys told a girl who was not one of the clic that she couldn't play on the monkey bars, they were for "them only". I stood up for the girl and stood my ground, and told him flatly, the monkey bars were for everyone to enjoy.

    Well, we kept arguing at it, this back and forth, he wouldn't back down, nor would I, and a huge crowd gathered around us egging us on for a fight which just escalated the situation that much further. I don't think either one of us had a clue how to fight, and I am sure I was scared as hell as was he, but there was no way I was backing down. I was in the right. I didn't know it at the time, but I was sticking up for what is know as the "commons". Fortunately, the bell for the end of recess rang, and saved both of us from a thunderdome brawl, but for several weeks after that, I watched my back. Not watching for him, but rather the whole dangerous snotty kids gang.

    I didn't know it at the time, but I earned a boat-ton of respect from a bunch of the kids "not in the clic". Suddenly, I was their champion. They and the monkey bars are all gone now, but you want to know the best part? Decades later I still remember it, and I am still fiercely proud of it. Some silly moment in 2nd grade.

    I wish more people would have the simple courage I had as a 2nd grader, and defend the commons. They belong to you. They belong to me. They belong to everyone. I didn't know it at the time, but that little moment changed my life, and it wouldn't be the last time I drew a line in the dirt against bullies and stood up for freedom against bullies. Just because someone tells you you have to do something or obey, does not mean it's in your or everyone's best interest to do so. They usually have some less than savory agenda.

    Be smart, enjoy the skies, use common sense while flying, but don't live in fear of a bunch of hallway monitors and bullies. You'll be running around trying to appease them for the rest of your life if you do so... Just ask the Germans about WW2, and how bending backwards to follow the rules and appease the bullies and the ruling gang in power worked out for them...
    Last edited by choppergirl; 04-23-2017 at 05:09 PM.

  10. #20

    Join Date
    Jan 2012
    Quote Originally Posted by choppergirl View Post
    I would argue, if nobody is hurt by you flying any distance away from anything, no crime has been commited. Anyone can write you a fine or charge you with anything, but it's a jury that decides, not the law, nor FAA wording in any paragraph anywhere.

    Good post but in my experience it is not a jury that decides. It is an administrative law judge that assumes you must be guilty regardless of what you and witnesses say. 90 day suspension for a good friend. Not justified. Long live 103, great break for the commons. Lets hope that it holds.

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