Low-Level Flying

In 2022, RAAus recorded two fatal accidents which involved low-level flying. Pilots should never operate below 500ft above ground level (AGL) without conducting formal low-level flight training and without holding the appropriate qualifications to conduct low level flying legally. 

Do you know when you can legally fly below 500ft AGL?

Civil Aviation Order (CAO) 95.55 paragraph 10.1 states that an aeroplane may only be flown at a height of less than 500 feet above ground level (AGL) if;

  1. the aeroplane is in the course of taking-off or landing; or
  2. the aeroplane is flying over land that is owned by, or under the control of, the pilot; or
  3. the owner or occupier (including the Crown) of land over which the aeroplane is flying, or an agent or employee of the owner or occupier, has given written permission for the flight to take place at such a height; 
  4. or the aeroplane’s pilot is engaged in low-flying flight training over a flying training area approved in writing by the operator conducting the training as suitable for low-flying activity; and the low-flying activity is conducted with the written permission of the owner or occupier (including the Crown) of land over which the aeroplane is flying.
In addition to the requirements of CAO 95.55, the RAAus Flight Operations Manual states that the pilot MUST also hold an RAAus low level endorsement.
This is an important factor. Low level flying introduces a number of hazards which may not be taught during training for the issue of a recreational pilot certificate. Low level training with an experienced instructor will assist with understanding the hazards specific to low level flying operations.

So you hold a low level endorsement and own your own property. You're returning from a local flight and see a family member on a motorbike on your rural property. Legally you may be permitted to descent to low level, but impulsive decisions to carry out low level flight should be avoided at all times. 

All too often, pilots are caught out by making impulsive decisions without carrying out a sufficient pre-flight hazard review prior to low level flight. Without proper planning you may fail to identify hazards such as powerlines or other obstacles. You're also more likely to make poor decisions. Therefore, flight at low level should only be conducted with a particular plan in place and following a suitable review of local hazards.

What are the requirements relating to low level flying during take-off and landing?

CASR Part 91.390 states that the pilot in command of an aircraft (other than a rotorcraft, a glider or a powered parachute) must, after take-off, maintain the same track from the take-off until the aircraft is 500ft AGL when the aircraft is operated on the manoeuvring area of, or in the vicinity of, a non-controlled aerodrome. This does not apply to the pilot in command of an aircraft if a change to the track is necessary to avoid the terrain.

Therefore, pilots must ensure that they maintain straight and level after take-off until reaching 500ft AGL unless necessary to avoid terrain. 

Requirements also apply to pilots during the landing phase of flight. The Part 91 Manual of Standards (MOS) states that flight below 500ft during landing is permitted when the pilot in command is conducting a continuous descent from the cruising level or circuit height to the landing threshold using rates of descent and flight manoeuvres which are normal for the aircraft type. 

Based on this, landing does not offer the pilot in command a "free-for-all" when it comes to conducting low-level flight during landing. For most aircraft at most aerodromes it would be reasonably expected that the aircraft is established on a stable final approach not below 500ft AGL. This is further consolidated within the Aeronautical Information Package (AIP) Australia which states: 

The turn onto final should be completed by not less than 500 ft above the aerodrome elevation. This should allow sufficient time for pilots to ensure the runway is clear for landing. It will also allow for the majority of aircraft to be stabilised for the approach and landing.


Over recent years, RAAus has recorded a fatal accident as well as a number of serious accidents resulting from wirestrikes. 

An article from Flight Safety Australia outlines that wirestrikes are on the increase and whilst 73% of total wirestrikes occurred during aerial work, 75% of private fatal wirestrike accidents involved striking wires during unnecessary low-level flight.

There are a number of factors that make wires incredibly difficult to see during flight, even to a trained and observant crew. These include:

  • atmospheric conditions
  • cockpit ergonomics
  • dirt or scratches on cockpit windows
  • viewing angle
  • sun position
  • visual illusions
  • pilot scanning abilities and visual acuity
  • flight deck workload
  • camouflaging effect of nearby vegetation.

In addition to this, wires may be located in areas where they may not be expected including across valleys and around mountain peaks. Despite this, 43% of wirestrikes occurred with wires which were known to the pilot but not visually sighted.

When it comes to wirestrikes, the easiest ways to avoid this type of accident is to not operate at low level, and to identify any wires around private airfields. For pilots who have an essential need to operate at low level, training on the dangers of wires will be covered within your low level training.

Dont get struck-out! 

Read the full article from Flight Safety Australia by CLICKING HERE

Image source: CASA


In Conclusion

There are a number of reasons why a pilot may need to legally conduct low level flying, but low level operations introduce a range of hazards requiring specialised low level flight training in order to be issued with a low level endorsement. 

Pilots should avoid the temptation to impulsively conduct flight below 500ft AGL. A number of fatal accidents have occurred due to the conduct of low level flight due to collision with terrain or wirestike caused by a failure to identify local hazards. 

Pilots should maintain a stabilised take-off and landing and avoid turns below 500ft AGL unless necessary to avoid terrain. 


National Safety Month would not be possible without the support of our sponsors:


Garmin Logo and symbol, meaning, history, PNG, brand