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Low Pass and Rules of the Air

During c19 times it has become popular to fly sight-seeing over our capital, and on the way through the control zone, accept an offer for an approach to the active 3300 m runway of the country’s main airport, not to go below 100 feet. A low pass. This is for free, while a touch-and-go would be EUR 250+. This is entertaining for us pilots and our pax, and seemingly also for ATC who is still down to 1/3 of pre-c19 activity level and have time to spare.

It is a bit of a gray area concerning minimum altitudes, which are to be maintained at all times except when necessary for take-off or landing (SERA.5005(f)).

Before asking our CAA, who would probably just say “no, forbidden” and leave us unhappy and no wiser, I would like to ask how this is regarded where you fly.

Obviously training for aborted landings are allowed and even required as per syllabus, even though it is strictly not “for landing”. And what is the principal difference between an aborted landing and a low pass?

An EASA officer concerned with Part-SERA was asked and said this recently:
Well, there is nothing specific said in SERA about this situation, but generally speaking it was always considered common sense that e.g. practise approaches would be allowed to descend below the 500/1000ft limit. Generally speaking if a certain activity is allowed, we considered that also practising for it is allowed. Practise can usually happen both on a course or with an instructor and alone. I remember this was discussed at some point, but apparently it never became an issue enough to warrant any GM on the subject. I cannot find even old emails so presumably it was just a discussion in a Committee or stakeholder meeting.

Last Edited by huv at 13 Jan 22:34
EKRK, Denmark

What about (briefed) go-around practices that instructors keep banging on during PPL training, what’s the legal basis? how about TnG you are not landing after all? what about precautionary landing field inspection, the last one is done bellow 50ft and depending how it looks you may not land…

I did “fast landing & go-around” once on the grass airstrip nearby my homebase, actually someone decided to call it “unauthorised low pass”, either my approach was unstable or 180kts did make someone jalouse

ESSEX, United Kingdom

Well, I suppose the technical difference would be that the purpose was never to land from a low pass only, whereas a go around whether from a normal approach or precautionary, the purpose was originally to land.

That said, in the UK it is pretty common, and local to me especially common for instrument training where the nearest instrument approach to the local club is at an airport with £200+ fees, but low passes are free so that is where the training is completed.

I don’t know how it stands up if you wanted to get all nitty gritty with the legal aspect, but from a common sense point of view the purpose of take off or landing essentially means except when on approach… You could even say that the approach is part of the landing maneuver, and that you just elected not to complete one of the final steps.

United Kingdom

Sounds like fishing for a reason to not do something?

I recall a discussion on another forum where some suggested a low pass over a runway was variously “dangerous, life threatening, stupid, an accident waiting to happen” and other such derision etc, etc… My own view is that if you cant do an approach to a runway and then fly down the runway at 100ft, then perhaps you should reconsider if you should be making an approach at all, even to land.

Of course there is low and then LOW!! No doubt many will have seen the Ray Hanna spitfire clip from 1996…

Regards, SD..

skydriller wrote:

No doubt many will have seen the Ray Hanna spitfire clip from 1996…

I hadn’t; I found it after some search, though.


skydriller wrote:

Sounds like fishing for a reason to not do something?

Well, our CAA has started looking at tracks (radar or FR24?) and is sending letters to aircraft owners asking for PIC names on specific dates, citing busts of minimum altitudes. According to hearsay it is about the popular low passes, hence the discussion whether this is even legal. I would think it probably is, since ATC has granted approach clearance in every case, but it is not clear from the regs and I would not bet on it.

EKRK, Denmark

skydriller wrote:

an accident waiting to happen

Life itself is nothing but accidents waiting to happen, one after the other, and if you think about recreational GA in this context, it’s nothing but an accelerator of this “phenomenon”.

huv wrote:

It is a bit of a gray area concerning minimum altitudes, which are to be maintained at all times except when necessary for take-off or landing (SERA.5005(f)).

Well, LT (CAA) has made several additions to that (5 of them to be precise). Regarding GA, the minimal altitude (500 ft) can also be disregarded when training for approaches, as long as this is not done over densely populated areas.

A runway is obviously not a densely populated area, but specifically made for take off, landings, and training. It’s then simply a matter of how you train for approaches. Any definition of the how is better left for the court/LT, IF the issue should ever arise.


Speaking of how you train: according to Flight Safety Foundation, it is safer to treat a landing as an aborted go-around than vice versa.

LKBU (near Prague), Czech Republic

If ever I’m feeling a bit low, I always watch that Spitfire pass, it never fails to immensely brighten my day :-)

The FAA in the US was rumoured once for prosecuting someone for a low pass, but I’ve never seen evidence of this. The pilot after all could always said “a deer ran out onto the runway”, although that might not be very plausible if you’re in a Bonanza, doing 180 knots over the runway at 10 feet with the gear and flaps up and the guy from the FSDO is watching…

Last Edited by alioth at 14 Jan 09:10
Andreas IOM

I would think that legal base is you can go-around at any moment over a runway as soon as you have been cleared to the option. I am often doing this in LFMN and landing is expensive also. Btw we are sometimes propose to do a low pass over the runway as ATC is bored…
Over land it’s different. On an instruction flight, I’ve been told by instructors (not only one) that you can go as low as 50ft if you are not over cities and as soon as you don’t bother people. We are doing precautionary landing simulation in SEP around Fayence where there are many trees area, and we go at least this low.

LFMD, France
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