PPG Flying In Wilderness Areas
2013 Dec 17: Is It Legal to fly in Charted Wilderness Areas
I was working on the airspace video section that deals with wilderness
areas -- those lines with blue dots as shown at right -- and thought it
deserved some attention here. Pilots are
"requested" to stay at least 2000 feet above any terrain
within 1000 feet horizontally. But it's only a request on sectional and
terminal area chart margins. What's up with that?
There are regulated areas,
mind you, like the Grand Canyon, where Special FAR's codify prohibited areas
and violations are pursued for scofflaws. But for generic wilderness areas, avoiding overflight is voluntary. Remember, at one point, so was flying over the
Grand Canyon so we need to be responsible.
The Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) also says "requested"
to avoid overflight, reserving "prohibited" for landing.
That's a park rule, not the FAA's. The park services
don't have jurisdiction over airspace but they still write rules about
it and occasionally issue citations. You'll probably win a court fight
over jurisdiction but
who wants the bureaucratic punishment?
Here is the
7-4-6. Flights Over Charted U.S. Wildlife Refuges, Parks, and Forest
landing of aircraft is prohibited on lands or waters administered by
the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, or U.S.
Forest Service without authorization from the respective agency.
forced to land due to an emergency beyond the control of the
officially designated landing sites; or
approved official business of the Federal Government.
are requested to maintain a minimum altitude of 2,000 feet above the
surface of the following: National Parks, Monuments, Seashores,
Lakeshores, Recreation Areas and Scenic Riverways administered by
the National Park Service, National Wildlife Refuges, Big Game
Refuges, Game Ranges and Wildlife Ranges administered by the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service, and Wilderness and Primitive areas
administered by the U.S. Forest Service.
Advisory Circular AC 91-36D, Visual Flight Rules (VFR) Flight
Near Noise‐Sensitive Areas, defines the surface of a national park
area (including parks, forests, primitive areas, wilderness areas,
recreational areas, national seashores, national monuments, national
lakeshores, and national wildlife refuge and range areas) as: the
highest terrain within 2,000 feet laterally of the route of flight,
or the upper‐most rim of a canyon or valley.
You could argue that our craft is
not included, which is true, but this guidance is informative.
Another aspect is noise or wildlife disturbance laws which may avoid
the whole jurisdiction issue (see figure 2 in
sidebar). I can't find any case law that supports this but
wouldn't be surprised if it was effective in court. In other words they
don't cite you for flying over anything, they cite you for either
disturbing the wildlife or exceeding noise limits -- the airspace issue
Most laws are about defining the border of your rights and others.
If we can avoid making a big footprint we can avoid the motive force
for new laws. Like so many things, we largely fly at the pleasure
of the people, annoy enough of them off and we won't fly there anymore.