FAR 103 rule violations by ultralight pilots

by Had Robinson
updated September 16, 2021

Unfortunately, there are too many ultralight pilots who do not know, or who choose to ignore, the FAA rules.  Their activities pose a danger to themselves and to others, to say nothing of their often being a public nuisance.

What if you observe an ultralight operating in an unsafe or irresponsible manner?  Here is what to do, in order of importance.

  1. KNOW THE RULES   Get acquainted with the FAA 103 rules for ultralights (just four double-spaced pages).  Briefly, if an ultralight appears to be operating in an unsafe manner or is creating a nuisance, it probably is and the burden of proof that it is not lies with the pilot.  This is how the FAA sees it. 

  2. CONTACT THE PILOT, IF POSSIBLE  There are a number of pilots who simply do not know the rules, are not properly trained, but are otherwise good citizens and will respond to the concerns of others.  It is always best to visit with the pilot and share your concerns i.e. what he is doing is hazardous to others and their property, he is being a nuisance, etc.  Hopefully, he will apologize and be cooperative.  The pilot may not realize there is a problem so do *not* get angry, even despite the fact that it may take some effort on your part to contact him.  In other words, do not assume that the pilot is just trying to be a pest or a scofflaw.  However, if he is rude or unresponsive, go to the next step.

  3. GET EVIDENCE   There needs to be evidence of the alleged violation.  It must include the time, date, and the identity (if possible) of the pilot.  Taking photographs or video is the best way.  Put yourself in the best and closest location to where the problem is.  Usually, you will have time to setup because you may hear a paramotor coming from a mile away or so.  The FAA prefers that all photos/vids include the direction traveling relative to some identifiable object on the ground (e.g. your home or some landmark) and the ultralight's altitude e.g. a rooftop or notable object should be in the background.  Follow the ultralight in a vehicle (best) in order to identity the pilot's operating location and his vehicle's license tag.  To do this safely requires another person to drive while you keep your eye on the ultralight.  Most ultralights rarely travel more than a few miles from their operation area so this is often easy.  Getting solid evidence will greatly assist law enforcement or an FAA inspector, if necessary.

  4. GET HELP FROM OTHERS  If there are any USPPA (motorized paraglider) or USHPA (non-motorized paraglider) pilots in the area, they will usually help.  Contact the respective organization, explain your problem, and they may be able to help find a member pilot nearby who can work with you and help identify the other pilot.

  5. CONTACT THE LANDOWNER/LAW ENFORCEMENT   If the pilot is operating from private property (not his own), contact the landowner and tell him what the problem is.  If he is using a public street or highway to land/launch from, contact local law enforcement.  Explain what happened, that you have photographs and/or video, and that you have had no success in contacting the pilot and/or fixing the problem.  Please be aware that safe and responsible pilots often use public areas, like a road or park, to operate from but they do it in such a way as to protect the safety and property of others without being a noise nuisance.  Most cities and towns have ordinances that require all ultralights and aircraft to use an airport.  However, law enforcement usually ignores violation of these ordinances if an ultralight pilot is not being a nuisance to anyone and is operating his aircraft safely and responsibly.  Generally, all good ultralight pilots get up, out, and away from others.  But, unfortunately, there are a few selfish ones who think it is fun to buzz people from the air and/or trespass when on the ground.  Landowners and law enforcement, in particular, can make it much more difficult for rogue pilots to operate their ultralights i.e. restrict their operations area.  If none of the above fixes things or you are unable to complete steps #4 and #5 above, proceed to the next step.  Note that the FAA will require that you complete step #3 above.

  6. CONTACT THE FAA   The FAA has regional operations centers that help anyone who observes an ultralight or aircraft operating in an unsafe or illegal manner.  Identify the center that services the region where you observed the alleged violation.  The contact page for your region will have a 24 x 7 telephone number that is explicitly for reporting aviation incidences (e.g. low-flying aircraft) and accidents.  An operator will help you file a report.  It may take some time to resolve the problem.  Rogue pilots have learned the hard way not to be a nuisance or hazard.  One landed on top of a man's house and damaged one of his vent pipes.  Rather than apologize and take full responsibility, he was rude to the homeowner.  It eventually cost the pilot about $10,000 in NTSB fines.

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