Paramotor Laws of the air: FAR part 103 Ultralights (US)

If you fly a paramotor in the U.S you’ll be operating under Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) part 103. FAR 103 Provides guidance to the operators of ultralights in the United States and establishes rules governing their operation. Paramotor laws are very relaxed compared to many other forms of aviation, but they must all be fully understood before taking to the air.

FAR 103 applies to readers in the united states only. This is post number two defining paramotor laws, check out the first post by clicking here. If you haven’t read part one check that out first. Read to the point where this post is linked and then come back.

Australians looking for CASR part 103 click here for australian laws, as FAR 103 is a different document.

Far 103 defines ultralight vehicles in two categories: powered and unpowered. To be considered an ultralight vehicle, a hang glider must weigh less than 155 pounds; while a powered vehicle must weigh less than 254 pounds; is limited to 5 U.S. gallons of fuel; must have a maximum speed of not more than 55 knots; and must have a poweroff stall speed of no more than 24 knots.

Both powered and unpowered ultralight vehicles are limited to a single occupant. Those vehicles which exceed the above criteria will be considered aircraft for purposes of airworthiness certification and registration, and their operators will be subject to the same certification requirements as are aircraft operators.

These rules for ultralight vehicles are needed to achieve an acceptable level of air safety by reducing potential conflict with other airspace users and to provide protection to persons and property on the ground.

FAR 103 intro

FAR 103 governs the operation of ultralight vehicles by specifying the airspace which requires prior authorization of Air Traffic Control (ATC), prohibiting operation over congested areas, and providing for operations during twilight hours with proper lighting. Right-of-way and minimum visibility rules are also established.

The FAA has chosen not to promulgate Federal regulations regarding pilot certification, vehicle certification, and vehicle registration, preferring that the ultralight community assume the initiative for the development of these important safety programs.

The ultralight community is expected to take positive action to develop these programs in a timely manner and gain FAA approval for their implementation. Should this approach fail to meet FAA safety objectives, further regulatory action may be necessary.

Paramotor laws: Why we have to follow FAR 103

The operations of ultralight vehicles are now a significant factor in aviation safety. The vehicles are routinely operated, without authorization, into regulated airspace, such as airport traffic areas, terminal control areas, positive control areas, and prohibited and restricted areas.

Many operations have also taken place over congested areas and spectators and into adverse weather conditions in which operations may be conducted by pilots and aircraft which are qualified for instrument flight (IFR conditions). The midair collision potential presented by unauthorized operations is contrary to the FAA responsibility of ensuring the safety of all airspace operations including air carrier aircraft.

To illustrate the potential for hazardous situations that can arise, the FAA has recorded data detailing numerous instances of ultralight vehicles in controlled airspace causing near-miss situations with aircraft. The following examples highlight the problem:

(1) On March 24, 1981, an MU-2 flew between two ultralights operating off the end of the runway at Winter Haven, Florida. Both ultralights were equipped with floats and were operating at night without lights.

(2) On April 11, 1981, a Western Airlines 727 captain reported a near-miss with an ultralight vehicle in the vicinity of Phoenix, Sky Harbor Airport.

(3) In May of 1981, the pilot of a single engine aircraft reported a near-miss with an ultralight vehicle near Paso Robles, California. According to the report filed under the FAA Aviation Safety Reporting Program the ultralight was operating at 7,000 feet in IFR weather conditions. The airplane pilot, who was operating on an IFR flight plan, was forced to take evasive action to avoid a collision.

To establish regulations to deter flights which present a serious danger to aircraft and to provide a basis for necessary enforcement action the FAA published Notice of Proposed Rule-making No 816 on July 27, 1981 (46 FR 38472). That Notice proposed to include both powered and unpowered hang gliders under the generic term “ultralight vehicle” and included proposed weight and fuel limitations for those vehicles.

The Notice proposed a number of operational limitations for ultralight vehicles, while recognizing that the vehicles are used primarily for sport purposes. More than 2,500 persons and organizations submitted comments to that proposed rule. This rule is the result of FAA consideration of those comments in light of its responsibility for safety in the National Airspace System. Because of the growing significance of this segment of the aviation community, the new rules were codified under a new part of the Federal Aviation Regulations, Part 103.

FAR part 103 for ultralights

Adopted July 30, 1982, effective on October 4 that same year, FAR 103 formally established what truly is recreational flight. FAR 103 established limits on size, performance, and configuration and also established that people flying them needed no certificate or medical qualification.Authority: 49 U.S.C. 106(g), 40103–40104, 40113, 44701.
Source: Docket No. 21631, 47 FR 38776, Sept. 2, 1982, unless otherwise noted.

Subpart A—General

§ 103.1   Applicability.

This part prescribes rules governing the operation of ultralight vehicles in the United States. For the purposes of this part, an ultralight vehicle is a vehicle that: (a) Is used or intended to be used for manned operation in the air by a single occupant;
(b) Is used or intended to be used for recreation or sport purposes only;
(c) Does not have any U.S. or foreign airworthiness certificate; and
(d) If unpowered, weighs less than 155 pounds; or
(e) If powered: (1) Weighs less than 254 pounds empty weight, excluding floats and safety devices which are intended for deployment in a potentially catastrophic situation;
(2) Has a fuel capacity not exceeding 5 U.S. gallons;
(3) Is not capable of more than 55 knots calibrated airspeed at full power in level flight; and
(4) Has a power-off stall speed which does not exceed 24 knots calibrated airspeed.

§ 103.3   Inspection requirements. (a) Any person operating an ultralight vehicle under this part shall, upon request, allow the Administrator, or his designee, to inspect the vehicle to determine the applicability of this part.
(b) The pilot or operator of an ultralight vehicle must, upon request of the Administrator, furnish satisfactory evidence that the vehicle is subject only to the provisions of this part.

§ 103.5   Waivers.

No person may conduct operations that require a deviation from this part except under a written waiver issued by the Administrator.

§ 103.7   Certification and registration. (a) Notwithstanding any other section pertaining to certification of aircraft or their parts or equipment, ultralight vehicles and their component parts and equipment are not required to meet the airworthiness certification standards specified for aircraft or to have certificates of airworthiness.
(b) Notwithstanding any other section pertaining to airman certification, operators of ultralight vehicles are not required to meet any aeronautical knowledge, age, or experience requirements to operate those vehicles or to have airman or medical certificates.

(c) Notwithstanding any other section pertaining to registration and marking of aircraft, ultralight vehicles are not required to be registered or to bear markings of any type.

Subpart B—Operating Rules

§ 103.9   Hazardous operations. (a) No person may operate any ultralight vehicle in a manner that creates a hazard to other persons or property.
(b) No person may allow an object to be dropped from an ultralight vehicle if such action creates a hazard to other persons or property.

§ 103.11   Daylight operations.

(a) No person may operate an ultralight vehicle except between the hours of sunrise and sunset. (b) Notwithstanding paragraph (a) of this section, ultralight vehicles may be operated during the twilight periods 30 minutes before official sunrise and 30 minutes after official sunset or, in Alaska, during the period of civil twilight as defined in the Air Almanac, if: (1) The vehicle is equipped with an operating anticollision light visible for at least 3 statute miles; and
(2) All operations are conducted in uncontrolled airspace.

§ 103.13   Operation near aircraft; right-of-way rules.

(a) Each person operating an ultralight vehicle shall maintain vigilance so as to see and avoid aircraft and shall yield the right-of-way to all aircraft.
(b) No person may operate an ultralight vehicle in a manner that creates a collision hazard with respect to any aircraft.
(c) Powered ultralights shall yield the right-of-way to unpowered ultralights.

§ 103.15   Operations over congested areas.

No person may operate an ultralight vehicle over any congested area of a city, town, or settlement, or over any open air assembly of persons.

§ 103.17   Operations in certain airspace. No person may operate an ultralight vehicle within Class A, Class B, Class C, or Class D airspace or within the lateral boundaries of the surface area of Class E airspace designated for an airport unless that person has prior authorization from the ATC facility having jurisdiction over that airspace.
[Amdt. 103–17, 56 FR 65662, Dec. 17, 1991]

§ 103.19   Operations in prohibited or restricted areas.

No person may operate an ultralight vehicle in prohibited or restricted areas unless that person has permission from the using or controlling agency, as appropriate.

§ 103.20   Flight restrictions in the proximity of certain areas designated by notice to airmen.

No person may operate an ultralight vehicle in areas designated in a Notice to Airmen under §91.137, §91.138, §91.141, §91.143 or §91.145 of this chapter, unless authorized by: (a) Air Traffic Control (ATC); or
(b) A Flight Standards Certificate of Waiver or Authorization issued for the demonstration or event.
[Doc. No. FAA–2000–8274, 66 FR 47378, Sept. 11, 2001]

§ 103.21   Visual reference with the surface.

No person may operate an ultralight vehicle except by visual reference with the surface.

§ 103.23   Flight visibility and cloud clearance requirements.

No person may operate an ultralight vehicle when the flight visibility or distance from clouds is less than that in the table found below. All operations in Class A, Class B, Class C, and Class D airspace or Class E airspace designated for an airport must receive prior ATC authorization as required in §103.17 of this part.

Airspace Flight
from clouds
Class A Not applicable Not Applicable.
Class B 3 statute miles Clear of Clouds.
Class C 3 statute miles 500 feet below.
1,000 feet above.
2,000 feet horizontal.
Class D 3 statute miles 500 feet below.
1,000 feet above.
2,000 feet horizontal.
Class E:
Less than 10,000 feet MSL 3 statute miles 500 feet below.
1,000 feet above.
2,000 feet horizontal.
At or above 10,000 feet MSL 5 statute miles 1,000 feet below.
1,000 feet above.
1 statute mile horizontal.
Class G:
1,200 feet or less above the surface (regardless of MSL altitude) 1 statute mile Clear of clouds.
More than 1,200 feet above the surface but less than 10,000 feet MSL 1 statute mile 500 feet below.
1,000 feet above.
2,000 feet horizontal.
More than 1,200 feet above the surface and at or above 10,000 feet MSL 5 statute miles 1,000 feet below.
1,000 feet above.
1 statute mile horizontal.

That just about wraps up all of the paramotor laws you’ll have to follow. Read this post again and bookmark it for future reference. Remember, paramotor laws and FAR 103 exists for your safety, so know them well and stick to them.

If you’ve just started paramotoring check out some of my safety articles:

Discover the most common causes of accidents in the sport here.

Find out whether a wing collapse is inevitable by clicking here.

And if you haven’t bought any gear yet, find out everything you’ll need before taking to the sky here.



  1. Hi, where I live there are some individuals who fly these over our farm. Our concern is that that swoop down low near our pastures, which then spooks our livestock sending them through the fences or when in the barnyards, they slip and fall trying to run away. These individuals continue to do this every time they fly over and have also been seen flying very low to deer, which again they get spooked and run, sometimes out into the roads. Are there any rules they should be following? Or anyone I should contact to let know what these individuals are doing?

  2. Someone paramotors over our neighborhood and today he was doing this at 7:30 in the morning. Very close to my house (several passes) and noisy!! Like a flying riding lawnmower. Yes, I’m annoyed. I live in Sarasota, Florida, but am not near a beach or a park. Live in a subdivision. Is this legal? How can I prevent this in the future? Thank you!

  3. Are there any rules that require a safe distance from a home? I live on a rural farm and someone close by has one of these and they constantly over our property, which i have no problem with. Last night they flew within about 50ft-75ft above my house. I’m not someone to complain but this just doesn’t seem safe. Are you required to have any type of insurance on these? I just wonder if something happens and he crashes into my house or on my property am I liable?
    Any input would be greatly appreciated. Again I’m not someone to cause a problem I’m just trying to understand what’s going on.

    Thank you

  4. Anybody still monitoring, here? I’m curious about the flight viz and cloud clearance chart for Class A-D airspace. Flight in these areas is prohibited by 103.17, so why would 103.23 be relevant? I’m assuming it’s for those who have ATC authorization to operate in these airspaces, but I’m curious if anyone knows of other reasons.

    1. Author

      Hi Carl, yes we can fly in airspace if given clearance, so this section was added for that reason.

  5. Is there a legal height limit to fly a paramotor?

    1. Author

      Not until you reach 18,000 ft, but after 12,000 ft you’ll risk hypoxia so you need an oxygen supply. You also have to notify air traffic control as there are aircraft up high that aren’t flying by visual flight rules (VFR) and rely solely on instruments (IFR). The Paramotor will also lose power as you gain altitude and the air gets thinner. I believe Bear Grylls set the paramotor altitude record when he flew to around 29,000 ft above Everest back in 2007, but he had to use a specially designed engine and get ATC clearance.

      1. In the USA no ultralight may operate in Class A airspace, which begins at 18,000 feet MSL.
        Many unpowered ultralight aircraft such as PG and HG routinely bump against this limit via thermals. Of course oxy is used.

        1. You guys should not be flying on Oxy or any other drugs u should be flying as sober as possible, you could easily have an accident & need to be ready to react properly ..

          1. What the hell are you talking about?? If anyone said Oxy I’m sure they were referring to oxygen.

  6. Hi,. I am AbdulSalam from Oman.Presently I am doing my paramotor course in Skyschool ,Oman.My desire is to start a paramotor center for tourists in India.Please give me your valuable advice regarding,Is this can operate all the year around?My plan is tandem trike operations.Thanks

    1. Author

      Hi AbdulSalam

      You’ve certainly chose a great school, I trained with Skyschool myself and their training is second to none. Your plans sound great and it’s definitely possible. To fly tandems it’s recommended that you fly for at least 100 hours before doing tandem training. In the UK most people will not offer tandem training until you’ve flown for 150 hours, then you have to pass certain tests and exams to gain your qualification. This is for good reason, because tandems can be tricky.

      Once you’ve completed training my advice would be to fly as often as possible and clock up the hours. After 100 hours I’d speak to a tandem pilot to gain knowledge of how to set up the rig, and what to expect. Take your first tandem flights with the instructor as your passenger, and he can guide you through everything you need to do.

      I hope this helps!

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