Frequently Asked Questions
Why is low flying necessary in peacetime?
Events around the world today demonstrate that there is a continuing requirement for well-trained armed forces able to defend our interests at short notice whenever the need arises.
Low flying is a vital element in meeting this. An aircrew’s best chance of survival might lie in flying fast and low, using ground contours to delay detection and screen them from fighter aircraft, missiles and anti-aircraft artillery. Low flying is a highly demanding skill which cannot be learned quickly in an emergency. It is only through progressive training and continuous demanding practice in peacetime, both during the day and at night, that aircrew can acquire and maintain the skills they would need to cope with the additional pressures when flying during operations.
For more information, see:
Low Flying: the military requirement
Why do you still need to practice low flying when this tactic wasn't used in Kosovo?
Kosovo did not provide a blueprint for future operations. We would be failing in our duty if we did not ensure that aircrew of all three Services were fully competent in a wide range of flying skills and tactics before we required them to deploy on operations. Aircrew must be confident of their ability to fly combat and humanitarian missions at whatever height necessary, if they are to keep a potential enemy off balance, and themselves as safe as possible. The tactics used to achieve air superiority over Kosovo were not predictable in advance; low flying expertise was there should it have been required.
Why not practise over the sea or on simulators?
Low flying over a flat and largely featureless sea offers little realistic training for aircrew who, during operations, will generally have to fly over land. We already make maximum use of simulators, particularly in areas such as cockpit procedures, general handling, instrument flying training, and practice for emergencies and wartime procedures which cannot reasonably be carried out in the air. Although simulator technology continues to develop steadily, even the most advanced devices currently available cannot give sufficiently realistic simulation, or impart the necessary physiological or psychological pressures, to provide an acceptable substitute for actual low flying. Developments in simulator technology are monitored closely. In the meantime, they complement, rather than replace, the need for low flying training.
Where is low flying carried out?
We would like to carry out low flying training without disturbing people on the ground. Unfortunately, there are no uninhabited areas of the UK large enough to meet our essential training needs. It is therefore our policy that, in principle, the whole of the UK is used for low flying by military aircraft in order to spread the disturbance as thinly as possible. A number of areas are unavailable because of airspace restrictions, such as the protected airspace surrounding airports, airfields, glider sites and certain industrial sites. Major built-up areas are also avoided. Outside such exclusion zones, it is inevitable that the less populated areas will see some of our low flying training sorties. We try to ensure that low flying is distributed as equitably as practicable, but geographic, climatic and operational factors mean that a truly even distribution will never be possible.
Can low flying aircraft avoid overflying livestock or particular locations?
We receive a great many requests for low flying aircraft to avoid overflying livestock or individual locations. While such requests may seem undemanding, it would be impossible for us to meet our training objectives if we acceded to them all. It is not that we are unsympathetic, but the creation of additional avoidances has the effect of concentrating low flying on other communities where there may be equally compelling sensitivities. For these reasons permanent avoidances can only generally be approved in exceptional circumstances. Nevertheless, we consider all request we received on a case-by-case basis. Aircrew do not deliberately set out to overfly livestock and will take avoiding action when this is possible. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to see animals in time to avoid them. Additionally, we have found that by taking such action, aircrew may create more of a disturbance to those on the ground than they would have done if they had continued with the original flight path.
For more information see:
Low Flying, the Community and the Environment
How much low flying do you do?
The amount of training we carry out is limited to that strictly necessary for aircrew to achieve and maintain operational effectiveness, and is kept under continuous review. This has led to a reduction in recent years, reflecting the changing requirement. In calendar year 1995, a total of 66,569 hours low flying was booked whereas in the training year 2003/2004, 45,062 hours were booked, representing a reduction of 32%.
For more information, see:
Distribution & Balance
What measures are taken to reduce disturbance?
We know that military low flying can be intrusive and for this reason a range of measures is taken to minimise disturbance. For example, outside designated areas sorties are normally limited to a minimum height of 250 feet and to speeds of no more than 450 knots, even though aircrew would be required to fly much lower and faster in operational theatres. We carry out the majority of low flying on weekdays, with only non-jet activity in support of reserve forces generally permitted at weekends. Low flying at night is required to be completed as early as possible and only in exceptional cases is jet low flying permitted after 11pm.
For more information see: Low Flying, the Community and the Environment
Is flying below 250 feet permitted in the UK?
Fixed-wing military aircraft are not generally permitted to fly below 250 feet in the UK. However, it is essential that a core of proficiency at operational heights is achieved by allowing a small amount of flying by fast jet and Hercules aircraft between 250 and 100 feet in three specially designated Tactical Training Areas (TTAs). These are located in relatively sparsely populated parts of northern Scotland, central Wales and the borders areas of southern Scotland/northern England. The volume of this type of training is small even within the TTAs themselves, amounting to about 1% of the total volume of low flying in the UK. As much operational low flying training as possible is carried out overseas, mainly in Canada and the USA.
For more information, see: Low Flying: the military requirement
Why are helicopters allowed to fly below 250 ft?
Helicopters carry out a wide variety of roles in support of ground forces and at sea. They are, however, relatively slow moving aircraft and therefore particularly vulnerable to attack from the ground. By flying at very low level, they can use the terrain to mask their approach. These techniques require regular and realistic practice if they are to be perfected, and for this reason helicopters can be permitted to train down to ground level. Permission is sought from landowners before landing on private property. Some helicopters also fulfil a vital Search and Rescue role, which must also be practised regularly.
Why don't you practise all low flying abroad?
All three services regularly deploy overseas for a wide variety of purposes, not just low flying. The RAF, for example, regularly deploys to the USA, Canada and the Middle East and makes as much use as possible of the opportunities for low flying during these and other overseas detachments, particularly for the most intrusive types of training. Overseas deployments are, however, expensive to support both in terms of the logistics involved and the time it takes to get aircraft to and from their destination. It would not therefore be practical to attempt to export all low flying training. However, we remain committed to exploring and exploiting all new opportunities for low flying overseas as they arise.
Is low flying safe?
Safety is of the utmost importance to all aspects of our flying training programme. Stringent regulations, designed to safeguard the interests of the public and our aircrews alike, are in place and are strictly enforced. Peacetime training (other than that carried out in specifically reserved airspace) is conducted only in conditions of good visibility and clearance from cloud. All aspects of flight safety are kept under continuous review and, in consultation with bodies such as the Civil Aviation Authority, we take a leading role in exploring new flight safety initiatives.
Can you provide prior notice of low flying training activity?
Unfortunately we are unable to provide advance notification of routine low flying activity as sorties are generally arranged at short notice to take account of variable factors, such as the weather in various parts of the UK. In addition, a typical sortie, some 400 of which take place on any given weekday, may cover a distance of 500-600 miles. We do, however, recognise the importance of providing prior notification when this is possible, and details of major exercises and unusual activity are listed on this website.
Do foreign aircraft train in the UK?
The amount of low flying carried out in the UK by non-UK based foreign aircraft is very small: typically it represents less than 1% of the overall total. Military low flying by visiting foreign air forces is carefully controlled, and only generally permitted where reciprocal low flying training opportunities are provided for our own armed forces in the country concerned. The majority of low flying by visiting foreign aircrew involves other NATO countries on exercises or squadron exchanges, which are essential given the increasing role of multinational forces in operational and humanitarian missions. Where approval is granted for foreign aircraft to carry out low flying training in the UK, aircrew are subject to stringent flying regulations which are at least the same, or stricter than, those applied to our own aircrew. Moreover, foreign aircraft are not generally permitted to fly lower than they would in their own countries.
What is done to ensure aircrew obey the rules?
The performance of aircrews is monitored by more experienced officers and senior aircrew to ensure that the highest standards of airmanship are achieved and maintained. Aircrew are made aware of their responsibilities to the general public when they begin flying training, and this is reinforced throughout their Service careers.
The RAF Police carry out regular covert surveys of military low flying activity, often assisted by the deployment of a Skyguard radar system which can measure accurately the heights and speeds of aircraft. The RAF Police also carry out comprehensive investigations into alleged breaches of regulations. Aircrew found to have breached flying regulations face the possibility of disciplinary action. The results of monitoring and RAF Police investigations confirm that there is a healthy respect for the regulations.
How do I complain?
If you think you have grounds for complaint about a specific flight, you can contact your nearest air station, write to, e-mail or telephone MOD Head Office or the Regional Community Relations Officers. We do not require technical information but we do need to know the date, time and place of the incident. Any other details you can provide, such as how many aircraft were involved, whether the aircraft was a jet, helicopter or propeller-driven, what colour it was and the direction of flight can also be helpful. All complaints are examined and where there is sufficient evidence to suggest that a breach of regulations may have occurred, details are passed to the Defence Flying Complaints Investigation Team for investigation. In these cases, the results are made known to the complainant. For more information see:
Complaints handling procedure
Can I seek compensation?
Yes. Detailed information can be found elsewhere on this website.
For more information see:
Claims and Compensation
How can I get more information?
A great deal of information is contained on this website; click on the hyperlinks embedded in each section or go back to the welcome page to find what you’re looking for. However, if you have a specific question please e-mail us at: lowflying@.mod.uk or write to:
Ministry of Defence
DAS LA OpsPol
Zone H, Floor 5
MOD Main Building
London SW1A 2HB.
Last Updated: 9 Aug 04