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I was on a small little plane flying to Kodiak Alaska. We spent
about 40 minutes flying 20-30 feet above the water. We were under
the clounds. I nervously watched the white caps go by. Is this safe -
is this a normal practice in Alaska?
-- Steve haug, February 14, 2011
Is it normal to fly 20-30' above the water? I've heard that in South Africa they do it. Regulations require that all airplanes (but not helicopters) remain at least 500' from any person or vessel, so 500' is a more typical altitude to maintain over water, in case one happens to fly over a small boat.
If it was a commercial flight it would be regulated under FAR 135 and FAR 135.203 requires that a minimum altitude of 500' above the surface be maintained. So the FAA thinks that 500' is the minimum safe altitude for carrying paying passengers. FAR 135 provides a higher margin of safety than the FAR 91 regulations that apply to private flights.
-- Philip Greenspun, February 17, 2011
Flying Wild Alaska! I don't know if it's normal practice in Alaska or not (my guess is no, not even in Alaska), but in this novice (75hrs) pilot's opinion, it's not safe. Though I suppose if you're not instrument rated it's safer than flying up in the clouds!
-- Justin Toner, February 15, 2011