You want to rent a helicopter to take your daughter and her friends to their prom, but can the pilot land in your front yard to do so? This is a pretty common question but the answer can vary quite a bit!
In general, helicopters can land anywhere they can safely fit. However, local & regional aviation regulations can prevent a helicopter from landing at a pilot’s desired location, especially in urban areas. In an emergency, a helicopter is allowed to land anywhere to ensure the safety of its occupants.
Police & EMS helicopters will have much greater tolerance on where they can land but now we know that helicopters can generally land anywhere, let’s look at what this really means for Joe Public and what things are likely to prevent the girls from going to prom from your front yard.
Where Can A Helicopter Legally Land?
If a pilot is experiencing an emergency then they are allowed to land a helicopter anywhere. The main focus is the safety of the occupants on board but at the same time, the pilot also has to ensure the safety of people outside of the aircraft too.
When it comes to a helicopter landing anywhere when there is no emergency then we have to look at two parts of the flight:
- The Airborne Phase
- The Landed Phase
The Airborne Phase of the Flight
When a pilot is in flight he or she is bound by the aviation regulations within that particular country. For the US, the governing body is the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration).
Before beginning the ‘Approach to Land’ part of the flight the main regulation that governs the pilot is:
14 CFR Sec. 91.119 of the FAR (Federal Aviation Regulations)
In a nutshell, what this rule stipulates is that Except for Landing and Taking Off In a Helicopter you must not:
- Fly anywhere upon which you cannot safely land in an emergency without causing damage to people or property.
- If overflying congested areas, the pilot must maintain 1000ft above the highest obstacle within a 2000ft radius.
- If overflying a non-congested area, the pilot must maintain 500ft above the ground.
- If overflying sparsely populated areas, the pilot must maintain at least 500ft to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.
But, a caveat to these rules is that if you are in a helicopter it may be operated at less than those minimums, provided the pilot operating the helicopter complies with any routes or altitudes specifically prescribed for helicopters by the FAA.
As you can see, if you live in a rural area and wish to have a helicopter land on your property then it will be far easier than if you live in the middle of a busy suburb.
Not only must a pilot follow the federal aviation regulations but they must also adhere to any regulations set forth by any local authorities, state authority, or even city by-laws.
Breaking a black and white regulation is the sure-fire way to end with a fine at best. Your local by-laws may have regulations in place to prevent low flying aircraft, associated noise, nuisance complaints, you name it.
Even though you may think your property may be the perfect landing spot you could find local laws prohibit the landing of a helicopter. The perception of what you or the pilot consider safe may be completely different to that of the by-law officer!
For example in California, outside of an emergency situation, any aircraft is prohibited from landing within 1,000 feet of a school without a permit, no matter if you have the landowner’s permission.
The main factors that both the regulations and the pilot need to focus on is the safety of everyone onboard and on the ground in the case of an emergency developing during the approach to and departure from the landing zone.
Common sense and planning is a must when looking at the plan for the flight.
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The Landed Phase of the Flight
Once the aircraft can overfly, approach, and depart safely without causing a danger to people or property then the next phase becomes important: Landing
Land Owners Permission
For any aircraft to legally land (Not counting an emergency situation) the pilot needs to have gained permission from the landowner BEFORE touching down in an aircraft. Without this prior permission, the pilot could be liable to trespassing charges.
The landing location is also applicable to open spaces or water owned by a corporation, farmer, local/national state park, or any other body. Just about anywhere you wish to land could be owned and you need to identify that owner and get permission.
This can be also true for airstrips and helipads. Just because they are there, does not mean you can drop in anytime you wish!
The best way to get this permission is by email or telephone then have them send you permission by email so you have a written copy if there is ever any dispute. This can be true even if it is your neighbor!
Also, be sure you have permission for the EXACT date you intend to have the aircraft land. Just because you had permission once, does not mean you can land anytime you wish, unless it is mentioned in the written permission.
Figuring If A Helicopter Can Land Anywhere?
Sensible decision-making by the pilot is required to ensure the safety of everyone in and outside of the aircraft.
Let’s have a look at a few example scenarios of where a helicopter could land for you:
You live on a large rural farm with vast open areas for approach and departure. You own the land.
Yes, the helicopter can land without overflying and causing distress to any person or animal on the ground.
You live in a residential neighborhood and you want to be picked up in the cul-de-sac.
No, the helicopter cannot land. The city owns the land and the pilot will most likely not be able to maintain safe emergency landing areas on approach & departure.
You live in a residential neighborhood and you want to be picked up in the park next to you.
No, the helicopter cannot land. The city owns the park and the pilot will most likely not be able to maintain safe emergency landing areas on approach & departure. Also, the possibility of people using the park at the time of landing will be high.
You live in a residential neighborhood and you want to be picked up in your large yard.
No, the helicopter cannot land. The pilot will most likely not be able to maintain safe emergency landing areas on approach & departure.
You live on the very edge of a residential neighborhood and you want to be picked up in your large yard.
Possibly, the helicopter may be able to land only if they can maintain safe landing areas on approach & departure and any neighbor’s property is greater than 500ft from the landing spot?
You are flying and want to land in a parking lot to get food at a Fast-Food restaurant.
No, the helicopter cannot land. The restaurant chain owns the land and the pilot will most likely not be able to maintain safe emergency landing areas on approach & departure. Also, the chance of causing damage or harm to nearby spectators or vehicles from flying debris will be very high.
You are looking to build your own hangar on your property.
Yes, providing you have sufficient approach and departure routes and are able to gain local planning permission. Zoning, the local city, and neighbors’ noise complaints could be the biggest factor in being denied.
Other Things To Consider Before Having A Helicopter Land
You have permission for the helicopter to land on your property, there is lots of room for a safe approach and departure but what else is there to consider? Here are a few other pointers:
Advise the pilot of the possible routes into and out of the property to avoid overflying any neighbors, livestock, dusty, or wildlife sensitive areas. Being courteous to your surroundings is very important for good neighborly relationships.
Ensure the landing spot is large enough for the aircraft. Usually, at a very minimum of 2x the rotor diameter for the aircraft landing is the starting point.
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A Robinson R22 has a rotor diameter of 25ft – Min Area 50ft Diameter
A Robinson R44 has a rotor diameter of 33ft – Min Area 66ft Diameter
A Bell Jetranger has a rotor diameter of 33ft – Min Area 66ft Diameter
An Agusta A109 has a rotor diameter of 36ft – Min Area 72ft Diameter
Ensure the surrounding area is free from debris or objects which can become airborne when hit by the rotor wash. Even a small 2-seat Robinson R22 can blow objects around with ease.
In the AW139 Air Ambulance, I have blown kayaks, patio furniture, and people over when landing. It can be funny at times but it can also be very serious!
Helicopters always draw a crowd. ALWAYS ensure any spectators, small children and pets cannot run towards a helicopter. Rotating blades, especially a tail rotor is an instant way to spoil the day!
Either have people on the ground or a second person leave the aircraft to control the area while the rotors are turning.
There have been and will continue to be accidents from the ‘Watch This‘ mentality of a pilot. Reckless flying or showing off is an instant way to bend metal, and if you or your pilot injure people in the process the pilot could be looking at jail time to go along with the conscience of someone’s death.
Boring flying is the safest flying! The spectators will still think it’s cool!
People love helicopters and they always draw attention. Be sure to keep an eye on small kids especially when walking around a parked helicopter. Aerials, antennas, rotor blades, and sticky out bits can easily prevent the aircraft from taking off again if they are accidentally broken. Always inform the pilot if you notice something wrong with the aircraft.
There may be times when you thought you did everything right and got all the permissions, but if confronted by an individual or law enforcement officer be sure to listen and comply with any requests.
Being confrontational, even in the defense of your pilot could escalate a situation further even if you know you are in the right.
Having a helicopter land at your property or even flying one to a remote landing spot yourself can be a very momentous occasion, but it can be a very gray area as to what is considered an acceptable landing site.
By planning the landing location, ensuring you have the permissions, not endangering people or livestock, or breaking any local by-laws you can ensure your daughter’s trip to prom will be remembered for the rest of your lives.
If you are ever unsure about having a helicopter come to your property then consultation with a local helicopter operator or the local FAA FSDO (Flight Standards District Office) would be your best option. Failing that, having the helicopter pick up the girls from a nearby airport will be a certainty!
PS: Many pilots have made the news by landing in areas that maybe they should not have and while they may have not been prosecuted, you may not be so lucky. It only takes a small incident to become a big problem!