Off airport landings

November 5, 2012 by Tim McAdams

One of the big advantages of helicopters is the ability to land off airport. However, deciding where and when to land a helicopter deserves considerable thought as the consequences of a bad decision can be very serious.

A case in point happened to a pilot in New York on October 27th.  According to news reports, police were called to the Coliseum after receiving several 911 calls complaining of many intoxicated youths at a rave concert there. While they were at the scene, police said a pilot attempted to land a Bell 407 on a grassy area on the side of the Coliseum. The first landing had to be aborted due to pedestrians walking in the area. The pilot returned and landed on the grassy area where at least 20 pedestrians were walking. The pilot was arrested, his helicopter was seized and he was charged with first-degree reckless endangerment.

The Federal Aviation Regulations also have a rule (14 CFR Part 91.13) prohibiting the careless and reckless operation of an aircraft; however, they do not address the legality of landing on someone else’s property. Failing to receive permission from the land owner could be just simple trespassing, nevertheless; zoning laws can prohibit the landing of aircraft even with owner consent. Some municipalities have specific ordnances that require a permit to land an aircraft and even if proper security measures are taken a fine can result if one is not obtained. In any event, landing in an unsecured area requires trained ground personnel (police, fire personnel etc…) to secure the area and prevent unauthorized persons from approaching the helicopter until it is safe. Moreover, as happened in New York, criminal charges can be filed if persons or property are placed at risk during a landing. It also would not be a surprise to see the FAA attempt to violate this pilot under 91.13.

  • Jim Borger

    In addition, somes states prohibit landing aircraft anyplace other than at an airport or designated landing area registered with that state. Don’t assume you can land in an open area just because there are no obstructions or people around. The FAA may rule the airspace but not all the ground underneath it.

  • Ric B

    In short, you need 3 things:

    1 permission
    2 valid reason
    3 be able to ensure no damage to persons or property.

    I am curious to where it says and under what conditions “trained ground personnel” are required, but I suspect those are conditions typical to city ordinances and not to landing on Public/private land outside of populated areas. I have landed patients in a public park next to a hospital in Reno that required prior arrangements with hospital who cleared the park which arguably met the criteria, though the city did not give explicit permission, and I have landed at a utility company that needed my services and asked me to land in their fenced in lot, one block from KRNO. No big deal. No security but the fence. Still arguably met the criteria.
    Remember, emergency landings will probably only be forgiven or considered justified if your landing doesn’t hurt anyone or anything, which is why I do not teach landing on crowded roads etc.

    Best regards,

  • Alan D. Resnicke

    When my architect brother drew up our new house plans, he (jokingly) inserted a silhouette of a helo on a landing pad at the back of the property straddling the city/county line. Since I’m a retired USAF helo pilot, it was a funny joke addition. We innocently took the plans to the city planner for permit and approvals… the poor guy about died of apoplexy when he saw the helipad. He couldn’t approve the plans… had to coordinate with the FAA, NTSB, county planner, local airport officials, fire and police chiefs, county sherriff, local hospital (with a helipad), local electrical and telephone utilities, etc., etc., etc. He wouldn’t accept that the drawing was only a joke. I had to go back to my brother for a fresh page – sans helipad – before we finally got approvals.

    My military “off airport” landings” were either part of search and rescue efforts or coordinated well in advance. Either way, they were all challenging (and rewarding, when we finally were off again and clear of obstructions).

  • RCL

    Ridiculous! Cops making an aviation determination on what is reckless endangerment????? PLEASE!!!! These guys were looking for something to do and someone to arrest and since they ” reckless”, drunken pedestrians” we long gone and someone complained

    These folks are the same kind that complain about aviation noise AFTER they move to a home near the airport!

    If the ordinances say it was ok and he had permission to land , the pilot made a determination that he and others would be safe then he should have been ok.

    Again, ridiculous!