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Thread: FAA Part 103.15 Congested areas?

  1. #1

    FAA Part 103.15 Congested areas?

    FAA 103.15 Operations over congested areas.
    No person may operate an ultralight vehicle over any congested area of a city, town, or settlement, or over any open air assembly of persons.

    Let me start by saying I’m new to Ultralight’s. Not new to flying, as I’ve been flying Cessna’s as part of obtaining my Private Pilots License.
    I’ve read the FAA 103 rules & had a question about “congested areas”. What is their (the FAA) definition of a congested area of a city, town, or settlement?
    My home airport is very close to our towns “Downtown” area. On Final you are flying right over downtown & over a neighborhood. The end of that runway is separated from a neighborhood street by a fence.
    This airport houses our local EAA chapter & has had UL traffic now for over 40 years. So, I’m assuming our town isn’t a congested area or this would’ve already been an issue.
    I’m just curious how you all view this 103.15 rule.
    Thanks for any clarity.

  2. #2
    Dana's Avatar
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    The short answer is it's whatever the FAA says it is.

    It's not defined anywhere, the FAA has said it's defined on a "case by case" basis... i.e. if you annoy somebody.

    If you avoid flying over towns, always fly high enough to glide to a landing in an area that's clearly not "congested", and you fly high enough that nobody on the ground will perceive you as a threat, you'll probably be fine.

    For more detail, see http://www.footflyer.com/PPGBibleUpd.../congested.htm.

  3. #3

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    Quote Originally Posted by TinmanJones View Post
    I’ve read the FAA 103 rules & had a question about “congested areas”. What is their (the FAA) definition of a congested area of a city, town, or settlement?
    "We'll know it when we see it"

    This airport houses our local EAA chapter & has had UL traffic now for over 40 years. So, I’m assuming our town isn’t a congested area or this would’ve already been an issue.
    Don't assume. It may not be an issue because nobody has complained and the FAA hasn't come out to apply the "we'll know it when we see it" test.

  4. #4
    FlyingRon's Avatar
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    My favorite is similar text in 91.319 that says "congested airway." I'm not sure what a congested airway is, other than perhaps the RIPON->OSH path over the railroad tracks and it wouldn't be so congested if they barred experimentals from it.

  5. #5
    Ahh. I see.
    So, as long as I’ve got plenty of altitude and flying straight & level when flying over town I should be fine.
    Its when circling overhead, flying low, looking suspicious & disturbing others that it could be an issue. Correct?

  6. #6

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    It isn't defined, but was first used in 91.119. So reading 91.119 you can infer to avoid overflight of people depending on your maneuvering speed. (Helicopters have less minimums)

    Most complaints are from people that read 91.119 and think 1000 feet is the law everywhere without reading the exceptions.
    No altitude limit for 103. But the complainers don't know what is 103 or 91.
    So avoid complainers completely.
    91.119 allows takeoff and landing at your airport over downtown.
    Last edited by Bill Berson; 02-22-2018 at 03:13 PM.

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    Now this could just be me, but I find Par 103 the most exciting flying over corn about 6 inches above said corn. I never did this, I always stayed at about 500' following my buddy flying his ultralight a few inches off the corn. But Par 103 is all about low slow flight. IMHO. Once you get up to say 1000' it is almost like you are sitting still. I find the fun lower down flying Par 103 and flying over open fields. The most fun, flying you can have. Again this could just be me. Also don't get me wrong, all flying is fun.

  8. #8
    Dana's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TinmanJones View Post
    Ahh. I see.
    So, as long as I’ve got plenty of altitude and flying straight & level when flying over town I should be fine.
    Its when circling overhead, flying low, looking suspicious & disturbing others that it could be an issue. Correct?
    Yes and no. Technically, you aren't allowed to fly over town at all, as the town would be considered a congested area if somebody complains. Practically, with plenty of altitude it's unlikely anybody would complain.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Berson View Post
    91.119 allows takeoff and landing at your airport over downtown.
    91.119 doesn't apply to ultralights operating under part 103. There is no exemption to the congested area prohibition, even for takeoff and landing. Again practically, it's ignored (again, until somebody complains).

  9. #9

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    It says "over any congested area of a city or town." That implies that some areas of a city are not congested and available. For example, a park or river or lake or even industrial area perhaps. It might be possible to fly out of Lake Union Seaplane base in downtown Seattle. I haven't checked. Probably would be limited to flight over the lake only. Because 103 doesn't allow enroute flight over a congested area at all. But the lake may not be congested since it is used for seaplanes.
    I only mentioned 91.119 to explain his comment in post 1.

    Could perhaps get prior permission for an area.
    Last edited by Bill Berson; 02-23-2018 at 10:52 AM.

  10. #10

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    Some time ago I attended a seminar on this issue put on by an aviation attorney. As stated previously, Congested Area is not defined in the regs. The attorney cited a case in which the FAA violated a pilot operating under Part 91 for flying at low altitude over a congested area after he took off from an airport and did an early turn out. During the process the FAA agreed that the area the pilot flew over had an average of one house for every ten acres of land. The pilot appealed his violation to the NTSB arguing that the area was not congested. The NTSB upheld the violation. So, in absence of of a definition in the regs, you go to case law. Case law says that one house on ten acres is a congested area. If the FAA wants to violate you no this one your pretty much done.

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