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Anyone flying a drone is responsible for flying within FAA guidelines and regulations. That means it is up to you as a drone pilot to know the “Rules of the Sky,” and where it is and is not safe to fly, so that your drone does not endanger people or other aircraft.

Rules of the Sky – Airspace

There are two categories of airspace: regulatory and nonregulatory. Within these two categories, there are four types of airspace: controlled, uncontrolled, special use and other airspace. The categories and types of airspace are dictated by the complexity or density of aircraft movements, nature of the operations conducted within the airspace, the level of safety required and national and public interest.

Controlled airspace is a generic term that covers the different classifications of airspace and defined dimensions within which air traffic control (ATC) service is provided in accordance with the airspace classification. Controlled airspace that is of concern to the drone pilot is:  Class B, Class C, Class D and Class E airspace. Generally, these classes of controlled airspace are found near airports.  The graphic below presents a profile view of the dimensions of various classes of airspace:

The drone pilot must receive authorization from ATC before operating in Class B, Class C, Class D and Class E airspace.  The FAA has an online system called, Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC), which can provide near real-time, automated authorization to both Part 107 remote pilots and to recreational pilots. Also, Part 107 remote pilots can request airspace authorization through FAA’s DroneZone portal, but this manual process can take much longer. The FAA also is exploring upgrades to DroneZone to enable access for recreational flyers.

Class G airspace on the other hand, is uncontrolled airspace in which the FAA does not provide air traffic services. You may operate recreational unmanned aircraft in this airspace up to an altitude of 400 feet above ground level (AGL) as long as you comply with all airspace restrictions and prohibitions.

In addition, existing FAA rules provide that you may not operate your drone in any designated restricted or prohibited airspace. This includes airspace restricted for national security reasons or to safeguard emergency operations, including law enforcement activities. The easiest way to determine whether any restrictions or special requirements are in effect as well as the authorized altitudes where you want to fly is to use the maps on the FAA’s UAS Data Delivery System, which is available at https://udds-faa.opendata.arcgis.com, and to check for the latest FAA Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs). This information may also be available from third-party applications.

You can read more about controlled and uncontrolled airspace, as well as the different classifications of controlled airspace in the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge which is available on the FAA website. Remember, there are thousands of private pilots who fly in both controlled and uncontrolled airspace at various altitudes, and they usually cannot see your drone until it’s too close for comfort. Drone operators are responsible for staying away from manned aircraft, not the other way around!

Airspace Restrictions

There are many types of airspace restrictions in the United States. Below is a list of restrictions that commonly affect UAS flights, including:

  • Stadiums and Sporting Events: Flying drones in and around stadiums is prohibited starting one hour before and ending one hour after the scheduled time of any of the following events:
    • Major League Baseball
    • National Football League
    • NCAA Division One Football
    • NASCAR Sprint Cup, Indy Car, and Champ Series races

Specifically, UAS operations are prohibited within a radius of three nautical miles of the stadium or venue.

  • Near Airports: Generally, drone operators should avoid flying near airports because of other air traffic. It is very difficult for other aircraft to see and avoid a drone while flying, and drone operators are responsible for any safety hazard their drone creates in an airport environment.
    • Option 1:  If you have a Remote Pilot Certificate and are following Part 107 rules, you must get permission from air traffic control to fly in controlled airspace. The FAA can grant permission two different ways – through Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC)  or through DroneZone.
    • Option 2:  If you are a recreational flyer, flight in controlled airspace is temporarily limited to recreational flyer fixed sites that have an agreement with the FAA.
    • Option 3:  If you are a public entity (law enforcement or government agency), the FAA may issue you special permission to fly in a designated location near an airport.
  • Security Sensitive Airspace Restrictions: Drones are prohibited from flying over designated national security sensitive facilities. Operations are prohibited from the ground up to 400 feet above ground level, and apply to all types and purposes of UAS flight operations. Examples of these locations are:
    • Military bases designated as Department of Defense facilities
    • National landmarks – Statue of Liberty, Hoover Dam, Mt. Rushmore
    • Certain critical infrastructure, such as nuclear power plants

 

  • Restricted or Special Use Airspace: Restricted or “special use” airspace is for certain areas where drones and other aircraft are not permitted to fly without special permission, or where limitations must be imposed for any number of reasons. Drone pilots should be familiar with:
    • Prohibited Areas. Airspace where aircraft flight, including drones, is prohibited. The dimensions of each prohibited area are defined in both area and altitude.
    • Restricted Areas. Restricted areas are where operations are hazardous to you and your drone flying in the vicinity. Restricted areas denote the existence of unusual hazards that are often not immediately visible (for example, artillery firing, aerial gunnery, or guided missiles).
    • Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs). Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) define a certain area of airspace where air travel is limited because of:
      • Temporary hazardous conditions, such as a wildfire, hurricane, or chemical spill
      • A security-related event, such as the United Nations General Assembly
      • Other special situations, like VIP movement

The text of the actual TFR contains the details about the restriction, including the size, altitude, and time period of the TFR, and what types of operations are restricted and permitted.

The “Map Airports” tab on the TFR website can help narrow down the relevant active TFRs in a specific area. For help in searching the site, review the TFR website help section.

  • Washington, DC: The airspace around Washington, D.C. is more restricted than in any other part of the country. Violators face stiff fines and criminal penalties. DC is governed by a Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA) within a 30-mile radius of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), which restricts all flights in the greater DC area.

The SFRA is divided into a 15-mile radius “inner ring” and a 30-mile radius “outer ring.”

    • It is prohibited to fly a drone within the 15-mile radius inner ring without specific FAA authorization.
    • Flying a drone for recreational or non-recreational use between 15 and 30 miles from Washington, D.C. is allowed under these operating conditions:
      • Aircraft must weigh less than 55 lbs. (including any attachments such as a camera)
      • Aircraft must be registered and marked (if it is not operated exclusively under the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, pending NOTAM change)
      • Fly below 400 feet
      • Fly within visual line-of-sight
      • Fly in clear weather conditions
      • Never fly near other aircraft
  • Emergency and Rescue Operations: The FAA prohibits flying your drone over any emergency or rescue operations including:
    • Wildfires
    • Hurricanes

 

B4UFLY Mobile App

Recreational users who only fly their drone for fun, now have an improved app – B4UFLY – to help show where they can and cannot fly with interactive maps.

The FAA has partnered with Kittyhawk to redevelop the FAA’s first mobile application, to improve the user experience so that recreational flyers know whether it is safe to fly their drone. The app provides situational awareness to recreational flyers and other drone users. It does not allow users to obtain airspace authorizations to fly in controlled airspace, which are only available through the FAA’s Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC).

The new B4UFLY app is now available to download for free at the App Store for iOS and Google Play store for Android.

Key features include:

  • A clear “status” indicator that immediately informs the operator about the current or planned location. For example, it shows flying in the Special Flight Rules Area around Washington, DC is prohibited.
  • Informative, interactive maps with filtering options.
  • Information about controlled airspace, special use airspace, critical infrastructure, airports, national parks, military training routes and temporary flight restrictions.
  • Informative, interactive maps with filtering options.
  • The ability to check whether it is safe to fly in different locations by searching for a location or moving the location pin.

UAS Data Exchange (LAANC)

The  FAA UAS Data Exchange is an innovative, collaborative approach between government and private industry facilitating the sharing of airspace data between the two parties.

Under the FAA UAS Data Exchange umbrella, the agency will support multiple partnerships, the first of which is the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC).

What is LAANC?

LAANC is the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability, a collaboration between FAA and Industry. It directly supports UAS integration into the airspace.

LAANC provides:

  • Drone pilots with access to controlled airspace at or below 400 feet.
  • Awareness of where pilots can and cannot fly.
  • Air Traffic Professionals with visibility into where and when drones are operating.

Through the UAS Data Exchange, the capability facilitates the sharing of airspace data between the FAA and companies approved by the FAA to provide LAANC services. The companies are known as UAS Service Suppliers – and the desktop applications and mobile apps to utilize the LAANC capability are provided by the UAS Service Suppliers (USS).

How does it work?

LAANC automates the application and approval process for airspace authorizations. Through automated applications developed by an FAA Approved UAS Service Suppliers (USS) pilots apply for an airspace authorization.

Requests are checked against multiple airspace data sources in the FAA UAS Data Exchange such as UAS Facility Maps, Special Use Airspace data, Airports and Airspace Classes, as well as Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) and Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs). If approved, pilots can receive their authorization in near-real time.

Unless specifically requested in an authorization, drone pilots do not need to notify the tower before they fly.

LAANC provides airspace authorizations only. Pilots must still check NOTAMs, weather conditions and abide by all airspace restrictions.

How and when can drone pilots use LAANC?

Drone pilots planning to fly under 400 feet in controlled airspace around airports must receive an airspace authorization from the FAA before they fly.

The LAANC capability is available to pilots operating under the Small UAS Rule Part 107, OR under the exception for Recreational Flyers.

Access to the capability is provided through one of the FAA approved UAS Service Suppliers listed below. There are two ways to use LAANC:

  • To receive a near real-time authorization for operations under 400 feet in controlled airspace around airports. (available to Part 107 Pilots and Recreational Flyers)
  • To submit a “further coordination request” if you need to fly above the designated altitude ceiling in a UAS Facility Map, up to 400 feet. Applicants may apply up to 90 days in advance of a flight and the approval is coordinated manually through the FAA. (available to Part 107 pilots only)

To qualify under Part 107, you must register your drone and hold a Remote Pilot Certificate.

To qualify as a Recreational Flyer, you must register your drone and follow the guidelines set forth in the FAA’s Advisory Circular 91-57B – Exception for Limited Recreational Operations of Unmanned Aircraft.

Note: If you are planning an operation in controlled airspace that requires a waiver AND an airspace authorization you must apply for both through the FAA’s DroneZone.

Where can I fly under LAANC?

LAANC is available at approximately 400 air traffic facilities covering about 600 airports. If you want to fly in controlled airspace near airports not offering LAANC, you can use the manual process to apply for an authorization.

LAANC is in beta and seeks to test its capability nationwide; the results will inform future expansions of the capability. Updates and expansions to LAANC will be announced by the FAA as they occur.

LAANC provides airspace authorizations only. Pilots must still check NOTAMs, weather conditions, and abide by all airspace restrictions.

No Drone Zone

The FAA is leading a public outreach campaign to promote safe and responsible use of unmanned aircraft systems. The FAA provides a free digital toolkit with outreach materials to federal, state and other partners to educate drone operators that flying in certain areas is prohibited.  This toolkit includes No Drone Zone signage for any medium, including print and web.

Download the No Drone Zone Digital toolkit (PDF)

DC No Drone Zone

The National Capital Region is governed by a Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA) within a 30-mile radius of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, which restricts all flights in the greater DC area.

The SFRA is divided into a 15-mile radius inner ring and a 30-mile radius outer ring.

  • Flying an unmanned aircraft within the 15-mile radius inner ring is prohibited without specific FAA authorization.
  • Flying a drone for recreational or non-recreational use between 15 and 30 miles from Washington, DC is allowed under these operating conditions:
    • Aircraft must weigh less than 55 lbs. (including any attachments such as a camera)
    • Aircraft must be registered and marked (if it is not operated exclusively under the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, pending NOTAM change)
    • Fly below 400 ft
    • Fly within visual line-of-sight
    • Fly in clear weather conditions
    • Never fly near other aircraft

The airspace around Washington, D.C. is more restricted than in any other part of the country. Rules put in place after the 9/11 attacks establish “national defense airspace” over the area and limit aircraft operations to those with an FAA and Transportation Security Administration authorization. Violators face stiff fines and criminal penalties.

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