There are not many things more annoying as a homeowner to hear the thunderous sound of a plane as it flys over your house.
Worse yet, if it happens during the middle of the night, or causes your windows to vibrate.
As the federal government has jurisdiction over United States airspace, no individual owns the rights to the airspace over their property.
The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), which is the government body that regulates civil aviation, therefore sets the rules on how low a plane is allowed to fly over your house.
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FAA Minimum Safe Altitudes
FAR 91.119 is the relevant section that sets out the minimum safe altitudes allowed for flight.
- Over congested areas: An altitude of 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet of the aircraft. This includes over any congested area of a city, town, or settlement, or over any open-air assembly of persons.
- Over other than congested areas: An altitude of 500 feet above the surface. The exception is when a plane is flying over open water or sparsely populated areas. In that case, an airplane may not operate closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.
In other words, if you live in a congested area, an airplane is not allowed to fly any lower than 1,000 feet over the highest obstacle, whether that be your house or not.
If you live in a sparsely populated area, an airplane is not allowed to fly any lower than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure including your house.
How to Know if a Plane is Flying too Low
It can be hard to tell if a plane is flying at the correct altitude. But seeing how low or high a plane is flying in relation to a structure like a tower or building can help.
You can also download an app called FlightAware that provides live flight tracking information, including a plane’s altitude as it flys overhead.
How to Report Airplanes that Are Flying Too Low
The first action you should take is to contact your local airport.
You will be able to find out more information like whether this will be an ongoing problem or more of an isolated incident, and whether there is an explanation for planes in the area flying at a lower altitude.
You can sometimes fill out a noise complaint form directly on the airport’s website.
Another option you can take is to contact your local FSDO (Flight Standards District Office), which serves as local representatives of the FAA.
They will investigate the matter by checking flight records with air traffic control information, and whether there have been other sightings.
You can find a list pertaining to your area here: https://www.faa gov/about/office_org/field_offices/fsdo/
When contacting your local FSDO, you should make a note of as much of the following information as possible.
- The type of aircraft
- Whether it was a military or civil plane
- The plane’s color
- The plane’s registration number
Time and Place
- The time the incident(s) occurred
- The location where the incident(s) occurred
- The direction the airplane was flying
- The altitude of the airplane and how you are basing this estimate
- The altitude of the plane in relation to a prominent object (was the plane level or below this object?)
Helen Krasner holds a PPL(A), with 15 years experience flying fixed-wing aircraft; a PPL(H), with 13 years experience flying helicopters; and a CPL(H), Helicopter Instructor Rating, with 12 years working as a helicopter instructor.
Helen is an accomplished aviation writer with 12 years of experience, having authored several books and published numerous articles while also serving as the Editor of the BWPA (British Women Pilots Association) newsletter, with her excellent work having been recognized with her nomination of the “Aviation Journalist of the Year” award.
Helen has won the “Dawn to Dusk” International Flying Competition, along with the best all-female competitors, three times with her copilot.