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Low Flying Aircraft

Make sure you are visible

Anyone operating low flying aircraft, whether it is for business or private use, should make sure they are aware of the dangers that horse owners and riders face when encountering a low flying aircraft. If safe and they are able to do so, pilots will try and take evasive action to avoid over-flight if a horse rider is spotted in advance.

We are aware of at least some aviation companies that have strict policies for encounters with horse riders, however these companies have also experienced issues with spotting horse riders in time if hi-viz has not been worn.

To give pilots advance warning we strongly advise that horses riders ensure they wear hi-viz at all times whilst out riding, both on themselves and on their horses. This will give pilots the best possible chance to spot them promptly. A horse rider blending into their surroundings whilst wearing dark clothing is very difficult for a pilot to see.

Reporting an incident

All aircraft incidents should be reported to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). All UK registered aircraft tail numbers begin with a "G" and it is very unlikely for any non UK registered aircraft to be carrying out any surveyance work or similar.

If possible and safe to do so riders should try and record the last four letters of the aircraft's tail number and then immediately report it to the CAA so they can use it to help trace the pilot and take further action. Of course trying to record the tail number is not always possible or safe, especially if your horse reacts, but you can and should still report the incident to the CAA, although without the aircraft's tail number there may be little they can do.

Background - Ministry of Defence

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 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 for military aircraft

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 Low Flying Complaints and Enquiries Unit: 
Telephone: 01780 417 558
Monday to Friday, 8am to 4pm (excluding bank holidays)

MOD Low Flying Complaints and Enquiries Unit
RAF Wittering

To make a complaint, send the following information to the Ministry of Defence (MOD):

  • your name
  • full address and postcode
  • telephone number
  • date and time of the problem
  • location of the problem
  • type of aircraft, if known
  • a brief description of your complaint

They will listen to your concerns and you should get a response from MOD within 20 days.

Your complaint can be investigated by the Defence Flying Complaints Investigation Team if you make a complaint about serious injuries or damage.

Plan ahead

If you're worried about whether your ride will be affected by a low-flying helicopter, call 0800 515 544. 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 offer you some information on whether there will be any low flying activity in your local area.

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 leaflet at your yard and in local tack shops.

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