FAA Acknowledges Some Pilots Prefer Operating ‘On the Grass’

In a document, the agency opens the door for turf strips next to paved runways.

The FAA has included guidance for turf operations within runway safety areas, or RSAs, in a new advisory circular, AC 150/5300-13B. Many general aviation pilots have been pushing for the change.

At many small airports, pilots who prefer to take off and land on turf will do so on the grassy areas next to the paved runway, known as RSAs. This is especially common for pilots flying tailwheel aircraft, certain vintage models, and ultralights. But these operations often are not officially recognized by the FAA. A complicating factor is that RSAs are meant to be safe runoff areas for aircraft during accidental runway excursions.

Under the new AC, the FAA establishes standards and recommendations for the design, materials, grading, drainage, and marking of such turf operating areas aimed at improving safety.

In its announcement, the FAA also acknowledged broadly that airports “can support a diverse range of aeronautical activities” including powered-parachutes, helicopters, parachute drop zones, balloons, gliders, weight-shift-control aircraft, airships, and others that “use airport operational surfaces in a non-typical manner.” 

Aviation groups including the Recreational Aviation Foundation (RAF), Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), and Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) have worked with the FAA to establish and clarify standards for turf operating areas in RSAs.

The RAF says this is the first time the FAA has recognized this type of turf activity and that changes to the latest advisory circular represent “a huge win for recreational aviation.”

The latest rules require airport owners to request the establishment of turf operation areas. The local flight standards district office (FSDO) would have to make sure aircraft can operate safely in the proposed areas.


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