There have been inconsistencies in the education and execution of photo passes. As we take our first deep plunge into the waters of air show season, it would be well advised to look at what is legal and what is capable of getting you in trouble.
For argument’s sake, we’ll say Pilot A has a 250 foot Statement of Aerobatic Competency card. Pilot A may take off, climb to 250 feet above the ground and then begin his aerobatic routine. Pilot A may, upon the safe completion of his routine, drop his aircraft to 100 feet and make a photo pass or two, most likely to a deafeningly supportive crowd. Should Pilot A have trained and practiced for this, he may also make a couple of photo passes to begin his show, execute the aerobatic routine and then finish with a couple more photo passes. Pilot A will then be able to talk to the FAA IIC about golf and fishing after he lands.
Now consider Pilot B. Pilot B has a 250 foot SAC card. Pilot B takes off, climbs to 250 feet, and then begins his aerobatic routine. The crowd is going wild. He drops to 100 feet to makes a photo pass and to appease the fans and climbs back to 250 feet to continue his aerobatics. When Pilot B lands, the FAA IIC will, after talking golf and fishing with the wise pilot, be talking about certificates and penalties with poor Pilot B.
The bottom line is as follows: once a pilot begins his/her aerobatic routine, he/she may NOT drop below the altitude listed on his/her Statement of Aerobatic Competency card. A pilot may do photo passes before and after his/her aerobatic routine, but not during. If a pilot goes below the altitude listed on the pilot’s SAC card, your aerobatic routine is considered finished.