Polite discussion about EASA, the CAA, the ANO and the delights of aviation regulation.
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By T67M
I have just stumbled across a notification on Friday that a pilot appears to have been fined for flying below 500ft amsl despite the exemption in ORS4 1496 (issued June 28th 2021). Various news outlets and official websites have covered the story (including Havant Borough Council) of Mr Florin Olteanu who "was prosecuted for flying at a height less than 500 feet above the ground and water in contravention of SERA.5005(f)(2), and Article 256(6) of the Air Navigation Order 2016" which resulted in a fine of £1,500, court costs of £1,500 court costs and a victim surcharge of £150.

Reading SERA5005(f)(2) alone would seem to suggest that such a flight would be illegal:

SERA5005 wrote:(f) Except when necessary for take-off or landing, or except by permission from the competent authority, a VFR flight shall not be flown:
(2) elsewhere than as specified in (1), at a height less than 150 m (500 ft) above the ground or water, or 150 m (500 ft) above the highest obstacle within a radius of 150 m (500 ft) from the aircraft.

However, looking at ORS4 1496 would seem to grant an exemption:

ORS4 1496 wrote:Permissions and Authorisations
5) General (SERA.5005(f)(2)) – Day VFR Flights
a) Except when being flown over the congested areas of cities, towns or settlements or over an open-air assembly of persons, or in a Flying Display, Private Flying Display, aircraft race or contest, The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) permits, under SERA.5005(f), an aircraft conducting day VFR flight, to be flown at a height of:
i) less than 500 ft above the ground or water; or
ii) less than 500 ft above the highest obstacle within a radius of 150 m from the aircraft,
subject to the condition in subparagraph (b).
b) The aircraft must not be flown closer than 500 ft to any person, vessel, vehicle or structure except with the permission of the CAA.

The reference in the Havant Borough Council report to ANO Article 256(6) is even more confusing:

ANO 2016 Article 256(6) wrote:(6) A person must not knowingly make in a load sheet any entry which is incorrect in any material particular, or any material omission from such a load sheet.

The flights reportedly took place along the beach and seashore, hence it is quite possible that the flight was also in breach of the ORS4 1496 exemption, however this is not clear, and the report specifically states "less that 500 feet above the ground and water" rather than "less than 500 feet from people". The CAA statement suggests this may be the case:

CAA spokesperson wrote:"Mr Olteanu refused to heed warnings from Havant Borough Council and flew his paramotor low along the beach and seashore, close to people and buildings, repeatedly."

Or was the actual offence a paperwork one under Article 256(6) and the SERA 5005(f)(2) reference is merely poor reporting of what people wished had happened? If ORS4 1496 really doesn't apply, this could have obviously implications for PFLs - I'm already aware of one instructor who now routinely calls for the go-around on "base leg" for a PFL at 700ft agl, which (IMO) massively reduces the value of the exercise.

Does anyone know any more detail?
By rdfb
FLYER Club Member  FLYER Club Member
I don't see any inconsistency or poor reporting here.

I don't know anything about the circumstances of the case beyond the links you posted. But let's say, hypothetically, that they were flying within 500 feet of people or structures. What law would they be in contravention of? ORS4 1496 wouldn't apply, because it explicitly excludes any flying within 500 feet of people or structures. So they'd be in contravention of SERA5005(f)(2), with ORS4 1496 being irrelevant. They'd be charged with contravention of SERA5005(f)(2). End of.

The CAA is quoted as saying that they were indeed flying close to people and buildings, so reality appears to be consistent with my hypothesis above. So everything is consistent.

I don't know what the "Article 256(6) of the Air Navigation Order 2016" part is about. It could be a mistake, actually intending to refer to something else, or it could be a separate charge unrelated to low flying.

But either way, I don't see how there's any inconsistency or implication that ORS4 1496 doesn't apply for PFLs that are more than 500 feet away from people or structures. Not unless you assume things that there is no evidence to suggest.
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By Paul_Sengupta
FLYER Club Member  FLYER Club Member
I suspect the "Following a plea of not guilty, Mr Florin Olteanu, the pilot of a paramotor aircraft, was prosecuted for flying at a height less than 500 feet above the ground and water" sentence in the article was due to the writer of the web page looking up the law to see what it was about, not being aware of the subtleties of the exemption. It does sound like he flew within 500ft of people.
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By GrahamB
FLYER Club Member  FLYER Club Member
rdfb wrote:I don't see any inconsistency or poor reporting here.

I agree.

In short, SERA forbids flight below 500' above surface, unless permission granted by the competent authority. CAA grants permission on the basis that ".. not within 500' from.." rule is observed.

It wasn't observed, so SERA is breached.
I'm not suggesting it is acceptable, safe or advisable, but a quick trawl of YouTube (equally, recognising that social media is hardly a bastion of best practice!) will bring back hundreds, if not thousands of videos of paramotors buzzing low along the ground; over the beach etc - albeit most of them not in this country, I accept. That said, I have on numerous occasions seen paramotors less than 500 feet over the beach on the South Coast - and I've always been jealous of them!

I'm really not going to defend the person here - they presumably knew the rules and chose to break them, but, but, but....there's something worth picking out between the lines here about the purpose of the 500 feet rule that I hadn't really thought of before (my ignorance).

It just strikes me that the 500 foot rule seems quite a blunt instrument from a *safety* angle when there is a considerable difference between a paramotor and a light aircraft, particular when it's flown over a beach with 180 degrees of the view likely free of any people, should a landing be required [albeit with a risk of getting wet]*

Given it's quite easy to hear a paramotor overhead before you see it, and reading the press release from Havant Borough Council, it sounds to me (no pun intended) that the driver of this prosecution was actually a noise nuisance - in fact, the link specifically states this.

I had always made the assumption that the low-flying rules were driven from predominantly a safety angle, not a noise and nuisance angle. In fact, the CAA 'Report a potential breach of aviation law' form for the public begins by mentioning the low-flying rules and that they are there 'to ensure the highest levels of aviation safety'.

Not sure what my point is, other than a) having tried a bit of paragliding before, it strikes me the 500 feet rule seems like a blunt instrument given the nature of the sport, and b) I'd like to know more about the facts here: was it deliberately provocative flying at 50 feet, skimming rooftops, flying over gardens, or was it 450 feet along the shoreline where residents were really just bothered by noise.

*I fully recognise that a paramotorist whacking into a pedestrian at 30mph wouldn't be a pleasant experience, but I'm not convinced that the risk is proportionate to the rule here; in a slow-moving paramotor, particularly into a headwind when they might be near-stationary over the ground, particularly over a beach, I would have thought a reasonable safety threshold could be achieved much lower than 500 feet; if anything, a near-stationary [smaller] solo object without transponder, non-radio (?), following the right-hand side of a line feature is surely a bigger risk higher-up than lower down?
Whilst a general discussion on the rules & regs is interesting, for me I don't think it is possible to constructively comment on the specific incident without understanding more about it. In particular I'd like to understand more about this remark.
CAA spokesperson wrote:"Mr Olteanu refused to heed warnings from Havant Borough Council and flew his paramotor low along the beach and seashore, close to people and buildings, repeatedly."

What warnings?
How many warnings?
Why did he not heed the warnings?
What was his attitude?