Technically, due to their size and unique operating characteristics, helicopters can land just about anywhere, including in residential areas, in parking lots, at airports, and on water. In reality, though, there are FAA, state, and local restrictions that must be adhered to that can limit where a helicopter can land.
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What the Regulations Say About Landing a Helicopter
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) sets out rules that govern all aviation activities in the United States. These rules are referred to as “FARs”, short for Federal Aviation Regulations.
According to FAR 91.119, which is the relevant section that sets out minimum safe altitudes:
Except when necessary for takeoff or landing, an aircraft must not operate below 1,000 feet over the highest obstacle in a congested area, and no lower than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure in non-congested areas.
However, helicopters are different from other aircraft and “may be operated at less than the minimums, provided each person operating the helicopter complies with any routes or altitudes specifically prescribed for helicopters by the FAA.”
Even if a helicopter pilot adheres to FAA regulations, they must also adhere to any and all local regulations.
Local regulations may be more stringent and prevent a helicopter from flying at lower altitudes than set out by the FAA. This is because helicopters can be the source of many nuisance complaints due to the very loud, annoying noise they generate.
Where Can A Helicopter Land?
In most cases, a helicopter will not be able to land in a residential area. Even if you have a very large plot of land or yard, there’s no guarantee that the pilot will be able to maintain safe emergency landing areas on approach & departure, though it is more likely.
If a helicopter wants to land in a nearby park that would also be a no. Not only would the pilot most likely not be able to maintain safe emergency landing areas on approach & departure, but the city owns the park too. You would therefore need to get permission from the city instead of just the homeowner.
To be able to land a helicopter in a parking lot of, say, a fast-food restaurant, the pilot would first need to get permission from the business owner. Even if permission was granted, it’s unlikely that a pilot would be able to maintain safe emergency landing areas on approach & departure. There’s also a very high chance of damaging nearby property like vehicles due to flying debris.
In the case of an emergency, however, a helicopter would be able to land in a parking lot if there are no other options available.
Provided that the body of water isn’t owned by a corporation, farmer, local/national state park etc. a helicopter is legally allowed to land on the water. Whether a helicopter would actually be able to land on the water is another thing, though.
Helicopters that are equipped with fixed utility floats, or emergency pop-out floats are able to land on the water. Most modern helicopters, though, either have no or limited water capability, making water landings unfeasible.
While some airports will have different rules for helicopters than they do for airplanes, generally, helicopters are able to land at airports just like fixed-wing aircraft can.
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.