In that column—which wins the top spot for the most controversial I’ve written at AOPA—I lamented not speaking with a pilot whom I observed making an unfitting fly-by in the Idaho backcountry. Most readers agreed with carefully engaging pilots in a discussion when safety and etiquette are in doubt. A few readers, on the other hand, encouraged me to mind my own business.
Based on the passion behind that column’s responses, I’d like to make another pass at fly-bys. Fly-bys can be fun, safe, and legal, in the right environment, but they are sneakily demanding. They seem easy, which is why we lose pilots to them every year. Legally, keep in mind that the requirements of FAR 91.119 (minimum safe altitudes) are open for interpretation. The FAA has cited pilots for violating FAR 91.119 after intentional fly-bys, even within an airport environment. In some cases, the FAA found explanations that they were just “go-arounds” or “low approaches” to be disingenuous.
We can reduce the risk of fly-bys with a little planning. Impromptu decisions substantially elevate risk in aviation, especially when they involve low-altitude flying. Thus, we should avoid fly-bys on a whim. Take the time to plan your fly-by, then execute methodically. Here are 10 tips for safe fly-bys:
Avoid intentional low-altitude fly-bys in the backcountry, flown just for a thrill. This does not include go-arounds or fly-bys to assess fields for safety of flight purposes. Those should always be encouraged when appropriate. When flying the backcountry, pilots need to remember we are not alone. We share a responsibility to protect the wilderness experience with backpackers, rafters, cyclists, horseback riders, and more. These adventurers are just as passionate about enjoying the great outdoors as GA pilots. It takes an enormous amount of work with local, state, and federal agencies to keep these airfields open. That work is far more difficult if other users gang up against aviation. Just a little courtesy goes a long way. If you’re itching for the sensation of speed or to show off your airplane or your skills, there are more appropriate and more exciting settings for your fly-by.
Go fly. If you’re considering a fly-by, make it safe, legal, and fun with a little planning.
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