Aerial Patrols, 195.412

According to 49 CFR 195.412 operators must inspect the surface conditions of hazardous liquid pipelines at intervals not exceeding 3 weeks, but at least 26 times per calendar year. Inspection methods may include driving, walking, flying or other means.

This is more stringent than the requirements for either gas distribution or transmission pipelines.  Considering the environmental impact a hazardous liquid spill may have this inspection frequency plays an important part of early detection of right-of-way encroachment, excavation activities and other circumstances that may damage a pipeline.

Many operators use aerial patrols as a primary means of conducting this inspection.  For this to be effective the surface of the ROW must be visible. Obviously the altitude of aircraft is important to adequately observe the ROW conditions.  Federal regulations on aircraft operations at 14 CFR § 91.119 include the following:

§ 91.119 Minimum safe altitudes: General.

Except when necessary for takeoff or landing, no person may operate an aircraft below the following altitudes:

(a) Anywhere. An altitude allowing, if a power unit fails, an emergency landing without undue hazard to persons or property on the surface.
(b) Over congested areas. Over any congested area of a city, town, or settlement, or over any open air assembly of persons, an altitude of 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet of the aircraft.
(c) Over other than congested areas. An altitude of 500 feet above the surface, except over open water or sparsely populated areas. In those cases, the aircraft may not be operated closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.
(d) Helicopters, powered parachutes, and weight-shift-control aircraft. If the operation is conducted without hazard to persons or property on the surface—

(1) A helicopter may be operated at less than the minimums prescribed in paragraph (b) or (c) of this section, provided each person operating the helicopter complies with any routes or altitudes specifically prescribed for helicopters by the FAA; and
(2) A powered parachute or weight-shift-control aircraft may be operated at less than the minimums prescribed in paragraph (c) of this section.

PHMSA has issued the following interpretations and guidance on this issue:

From the PHMSA Enforcement Guidelines:

3.  An operator may select any or several of the different types of patrolling of their pipelines and facilities (walking, driving, air, or others).

4.  The pipeline right-of-way conditions must be maintained as appropriate at a level that is appropriate for the type of patrol chosen.  If excessive vegetation is covering the ROW, the operator shall drive or walk these areas until the ROW is cleared.


Final Order Guidance:

a.  Texas Eastern Pipeline Products Company [2-2005-5013] (Apr. 13, 2006):  “The patrolling of right-of-ways is essential to help identify potential problems which could develop from third party activities along the pipeline.  Patrolling is also crucial for leak detection.”  The surface conditions of the right-of-way and adjacent areas cannot be inspected by aerial patrolling if those areas are obstructed by an overhanging tree canopy.

Interpretation 195.412  5
July 2, 1974

Mr. R. L. Johnson
Director of Environmental Affairs and Safety
Continental Pipe Line Company
P.O. Box 2197
Houston, TX  77001

Dear Mr. Johnson:

This refers to your request of June 10, 1974, for advice on guidelines issued by the Federal Aviation Administration which preclude the issuance of waivers from FAR 91.79(c) “Minimum safe altitudes over other than congested areas.”

We appreciate your concern that the guidelines may reduce the effectiveness of aerial patrols of pipelines conducted in compliance with 49 CFR 195.412(a) if waivers are no longer issued to permit flights below 500 feet.  We note, however, that FAR 91.79(c) exempts sparsely populated areas from the 500-foot requirements, except near any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.  This exemption should permit flights below an altitude of 500 feet in many areas where aerial patrols are conducted.  Notwithstanding the exemption, we believe flights as high as 500 feet are low enough to satisfy the inspection requirements of §195.412(a).  Where a closer inspection is necessary but may not be made by aircraft under FAR 91.79(c), an alterative means of inspection should be used.

We trust this adequately responds to your inquiry.


Joseph C. Caldwell
Office of Pipeline Safety

Continental Pipe Line Company
P.O. Box 2197
Houston, TX 77001

June 10, 1974

Mr. Joseph C. Caldwell Director
Office of Pipeline Safety
Department of Transportation
Washington, D.C. 20590

Dear Mr. Caldwell:

We have been advised by a district office of the Federal Aviation Administration that new guidelines issued by the F.A.A. preclude the issuance of waivers of FAR 91.79(c) “Minimum safe altitudes over other than congested areas” to firms performing aerial patrols on pipeline systems.

We are sure you can understand the affect such guidelines would have on pipe line companies such as ours in complying with the requirement to inspect our right-of-ways at two week intervals, (195.412(a)).
Attached is a copy of our letter to the F.A.A. in which we requested clarification of the guidelines as well as reconsideration of these guidelines. We are also including a copy of a letter from the Billings, Montana District Office of the F.A.A.
We would appreciate assistance and advice from your office in our efforts to resolve this matter.

Yours very truly,

R. L. Johnson

Department of Transportation
Federal Aviation Administration
General Aviation District Office
Room 216, Admn Bldg.
Billings Logan Internat’l Arpt.
Billings, MT 59101

June 3, 1974

Mr. R. L. Johnson
Continental Pipe Line Company
P.O. Box 2197
Houston, Texas 77001

Dear Mr. Johnson:

The current guidelines set forth for issuing waivers which prohibit flight closer than 500 feet to persons on the surface were established by our Washington office and all regions should be adhering to them.

Our Regional Office, FAA Rocky Mountain Region, Park Hill Station, P.O. Box 7213, Denver, Colorado 80207, has advised us that any existing waivers that are not in accordance with this policy will be amended to comply with the current guidelines.
If we can give you any further information, we shall be happy to do so.


Kenneth H. Goodsell

All this and more in WinDOT, The Pipeline Safety Encyclopedia.



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