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Low Flying Aircraft

Background

After the tragic death of Mrs Heather Bell, which was directly attributed to an incident with a low-flying helicopter, the Coroner instructed the Ministry of Defence to undertake a review to make sure that an incident like this never happens again.

The major review was undertaken working closely with the BHS following the Coroner’s instruction that the MoD should work closely with equestrians to resolve the matter. It quickly became obvious that the most economical and easy way for pilots to identify equestrians was for riders to wear hi-viz (fluorescent) clothing on both themselves and their horse.

Extensive trials were undertaken using two riders who acted as guinea pigs for the Chinook pilots, and it was easily shown that with a rider wearing a hi-viz jacket, a hat band/cover and the horse wearing a hi-viz fly sheet, the pilot could see them up to half a mile sooner.

That was plenty of time for them to avoid over-flight and therefore avoid frightening the horse and rider. Many riders wearing appropriate hi-viz clothing have reported that they have witnessed pilots taking avoiding action and remained safe as a result of this.

In addition to wearing hi-viz equipment on horse and rider, the MoD issued countless amounts of hi-viz equipment to riders in areas known to be hot spots for helicopter activity and also raised the low level flying height limits where possible. There are still places where low level flying will take place at any time, but mostly the horses in these areas have become acclimatised to the noise and take little or no notice.

Reporting your concerns

Some still remain worried by low-flying activity. The MoD does not take complaints lightly; in fact, they take them very seriously. Whatever you do, if you and your horse are involved in any incident with low flying aircraft, please tell us about it. You can complete our online form now or you can download the form and post it to us. We want to make things safer for all riders – although we appreciate that our troops have to train somewhere!

In the event of an incident, please also contact the MoD Complaints and Enquiries Unit on 0845 600 7580 or email CAS-lowflying@mod.uk. They will listen to your concerns.

Plan ahead

If you're worried about whether your ride will be affected by a low-flying helicopter, call 0800 515544. This is a freephone MoD helpline which is manned at all times and the operator will ask for the postcode of the area where you intend to ride. They should be able to tell you fairly accurately whether your ride will be spoilt by an over flying helicopter or not.

If you are organising an equestrian event, it may be possible to have it recorded as a temporary exclusion zone for the duration of the event and the MoD are keen to discuss avoiding lessons when registered RDA lessons are taking place at RDA centres. Call 0845 600 7580 for more information.

More information is available on the MoD website.

Help raise awareness by distributing our poster and leaflet at your yard and in local tack shops.

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