The Real Meaning of FAR 103

Some helpful info about what we fly (FAR part 103 – ultralights) and how to stay out of trouble and out of the way.  It was written by Cpt. Jack Brown (AK, CFI, AAW & competition PG pilot) and sent to me by Zak Hargraves.  – Had

Any pilot operating a large or high speed military aircraft has the identical responsibility to see and avoid us (PG pilots) and our flying area, as we do to stay out of his MOA (military operations area).

Notice that my focus was on "see and avoid" not where we are on the pecking order.  I don't care if you are the flying a 747-400, an F22, or a Super Cub.  Every pilot has an equal responsibility to see and avoid and yield if necessary in the interest of safety to any other aircraft, of any category, operating under any set of FARs (Federal Aviation Regulations). This rule has been in place for the 30+ years I've been flying and was tested at our Girdwood site when some hotshot GA pilot came in to land a few years ago and had to maneuver around paragliders to make a normal approach and landing.  He went screaming bloody hell to the FAA and they calmly advised him that he had no more legal right to the airspace in and around the Girdwood traffic pattern than the paragliders did...end of issue.

The goal of every paraglider and part 103 pilot (paraglider pilots) should clearly be to yield at all times as is clear in the regulations. However, this doesn't give any aircraft, civilian or military the right to run us down or try and exercise priority rights to any airspace that we are both entitled to fly in. This also means that we, as free flight part 103 pilots, have every right to the use of any airspace which is safe and legal for us to use, without carrying the baggage of "Gee, I'm a lowly part 103 pilot, maybe I shouldn't be here" If a pattern of conflict can be tied to an issue of safety at a particular uncontrolled airport over a period of time then there is a system in place within the FAA to address this.

It is quite clear about this; we are REQUIRED to YIELD to all aircraft. We can ask that military pilots be aware of our flying area and avoid it, but while in the air it's our responsibility to yield to aircraft. Yes, I realize it's hard to do that when you're going 20mph and the needle is doing 250+. That's still the way the law reads, practical or not.

15 years ago the FAA tried to violate me based on a photo of a 737 (me) for nearly running down an LAB Cherokee 6 near Juneau. I was on an IFR flight plan, was tracking out on the Juneau localizer at about 8000 feet, and was exactly where I was supposed to be. The LAB pilot was just motoring along on a beautiful blue day outbound in front of me dead center also on the localizer because he wasn't paying attention. He clearly was in the wrong and was basically smack dab in the middle of my exclusive highway in the sky.  He was VFR and had no business being where he was, even though he was technically ok.

The Feds were determined to violate me for failing to "See and Avoid" this other aircraft because it was rather traumatic for the LAB pilot and his passengers. My jaw about hit the floor when I found out they were attempting to violate me. When they finally determined that he was on my departure path (the localizer), they terminated their violation effort and I was eventually commended for being alert enough to actually see him in time to avoid a midair. So in the bigger scheme of things, he is required to 'yield' to me the 737, just as a paraglider is required to 'yield' to other aircraft.

My point being that if an F16 decides to make an approved flight through our primary ER (extended range) flying site and hits a part 103 paraglider, the F16 pilot is just as legally responsible for the accident as the paraglider is.... (Note by Had: Think about this: Who will survive the collision and who will not?)  There is no difference in pilot responsibility. Same would hold true for a single engine Cessna or any other aircraft. The legal responsibility to "see and avoid" should not be confused with FARs defining the part 103 pilot's pecking order in terms of who's yielding to who.  If I decided to end a short ER XC (cross country) flight at the Birchwood Airport, then I'd need to yield to the 150's doing touch and goes, or any other GA (general aviation) aircraft which are in the traffic pattern.  If I'm high over Moose Meadow and decide to land at the airport, then I need to be certain that I yield to any fixed wing or rotor wing aircraft who might also be in the pattern. When we talk about our pecking order, this is what the regs are referring to.  Aircraft separation away from the airport is accomplished by every pilot regardless of their part 103 ranking. This is the legal responsibility of every pilot and has nothing to do with yielding to one another.

One thing that might help is to get some face-to-face time with the local military controllers and command structure, and see if maybe  you can get them out to the flying site for an introduction.

I agree this is an excellent idea. I think if they saw first hand our 'operation' in ER (aircraft), it would become quite clear why it is so important that they limit any and all military operations within that specific area for pure safety reasons.