If you’ve watched Top Gun remember that Maverick, after asking the tower for a low pass which is denied, does it anyway resulting in some spilled coffee and a lecture. The question came up the other day regarding the legality of low passes. It’s not as straight forward as you might think and if you do it in the wrong time and place there could be an enforcement action.
The minimum altitude regulation specifies (generally) maintaining at least 1,000 feet above a person, place or thing unless the intention is to land. Clearly, a pass at high speed and/or with the landing gear up is evidence that landing wasn’t really a serious consideration.
If the airport has an operating control tower then approval is available from the tower as in “cleared for the option” or for a low approach. At non-towered airports there is no such approval mechanism. But wait, people fly over the runway all the time. It seems to depend on context. If you’re somewhere close to landing speed in a fixed gear aircraft or the gear is down and decide to go around due to a squirrel on the runway, that’s pilot prerogative.
But if the pass is made 40 knots faster than landing speed, diving at the end of the runway followed by a steep pull up it may be a little harder to convince the inspector that you really intended to land.
John Yodice addressed this in a 2008 article, Pilot Counsel: What is a “congested area”?
It involves a Gulfstream II and the aircraft is not configured for landing. The question is do you feel lucky and are you willing to bet a suspension (never mind the occasional accident that occurs as a result of steep pull ups at the end of the pass)? I am told you can get a waiver from FAA if this is something that you feel compelled to do – That’s a discussion to have with the FSDO.