Mounting an External Camera with a Suction Cup

Make sure you're familiar with FAA's policy before doing so.

By now we’ve seen plenty of inflight videos taken from vantage points outside the airplane after intrepid pilots affixed their GoPros and Garmin VIRBs externally, usually with a suction cup mount. Is this legal in the eyes of the FAA? Surprisingly, the answer is yes. But as is often the case, it’s a qualified yes.

The FAA has ruled on the matter, stating unambiguously that using a suction cup to attach a camera to the outside of your airplane isn’t even considered a “modification” in the eyes of the agency. As long as there is no mechanical attachment to the airframe and the camera doesn’t have an “appreciable effect” of weight and balance or flight characteristics, the agency has no problem with you capturing those gorgeous external inflight videos.

Here’s where it gets dicey. If something goes awry — say, the suction cup breaks free and the camera falls to the ground, bonking an FAA ramp inspector on the head — well, then you’re in deep trouble. In the case of an “inflight detachment” of your camera, you may be slapped with careless operation under FAR 91.13 and 91.15.

I’ve had camera suction cup mounts let loose inflight inside the cockpit so there’s no way I would affix one externally. But you might be braver than me, and the fact is it’s technically legal to do so.

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