Release Date: October 19, 2021
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.
Airspace 101 – Rules of the Sky
FAA rules apply to the entire National Airspace System — there is no such thing as “unregulated” airspace. Drone operators should be familiar with the difference between controlled and uncontrolled airspace, and where you can legally fly. Controlled airspace is found around some airports and at certain altitudes where air traffic controllers are actively communicating with, directing, and separating all air traffic. Other airspaces are considered uncontrolled in the sense that air traffic controllers are not directing air traffic within its limits.
In general, you can only fly your drone in uncontrolled airspace below 400 feet above the ground (AGL). Commercial drone operators are required to get permission from the FAA before flying in controlled airspace. Learn more about the rules for Certificated Remote Pilots and commercial operators on Flying Drones Near Airports (Controlled Airspace) – Part 107.
Read more about controlled and uncontrolled airspace, as well as the different classifications of controlled airspace in the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge (PDF) in chapter 15 (see page 377).
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!
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. The FAA and SMA have developed a toolbox for stadium management and team representatives to use for media and outreach purposes.
- Flying Near Airports: Drone operators should avoid flying near airports because it is difficult for manned aircraft to see and avoid a drone while flying. Remember, drone operators must avoid manned aircraft and are responsible for any safety hazard their drone creates in an airport environment.
- Airports in Controlled Airspace: For flights near airports in controlled airspace, drone operators must receive an airspace authorization prior to operation. Airspace authorizations come with altitude limitations and may include other operational provisions. Controlled airspace and other flying restrictions can be found on the FAA’s B4UFLY app.
- Automated Authorizations Through LAANC. Part 107 remote pilots and recreational flyers can get an airspace authorization for altitudes below the posted UAS Facility Map grid altitudes automatically from a LAANC service supplier.
- Authorizations Through DroneZone. You should use the DroneZone to request an airspace authorization if any of the following apply:
- You want to fly in areas that are in controlled airspace and are not serviced by LAANC the red grids on the UAS Facility Maps)
- You are flying under Part 107 and want to fly in a “zero” grid area or above a UAS Facility Map grid value
- You have a waiver under Part 107 and want to fly in controlled airspace using the waiver
- Flight at Fixed Sites. Some recreational flyer fixed sites have written agreements with the FAA that authorize flight in controlled airspace at certain altitudes. Many of these agreements include additional operational provisions. Contact the fixed site operator to learn more about the requirements for that location.
- Public Aircraft Operations. 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. Learn more about the requirements for law enforcement and government drone operations.
- Airports in Uncontrolled Airspace: For flights near airports in uncontrolled airspace that remain under 400’ above the ground, prior authorization is not required. When flying in these areas, remote pilots and recreational flyers must be aware of and avoid traffic patterns and takeoff and landing areas. A drone must not interfere with operations at the airport and must yield the right-of-way to all other aircraft. Uncontrolled airspace and other flying restrictions can be found on the FAA’s B4UFLY app.
- 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:
o Temporary hazardous conditions, such as a wildfire, hurricane, or chemical spill
o A security-related event, such as the United Nations General Assembly
o 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.
- DC Area Prohibited & Restricted Airspace: 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 a 15-mile radius inner ring is prohibited without specific FAA authorization.
- Experienced Part 107 and public aircraft operators with justification can file your request through the online Access Program (AAP) https://waivers.faa.gov
- A TSA/FAA waiver and an SGI/COA is required
- Flying a drone for recreational or non-recreational use between 15 and 30 miles from Washington, D.C. is allowed under these operating conditions:
o Aircraft must weigh less than 55 lbs. (including any attachments such as a camera)
o Aircraft must be registered and marked
o Fly below 400 ft.
o Fly within visual line-of-sight
o Fly in clear weather conditions
o 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.
- Emergency and Rescue Operations: The FAA prohibits flying your drone over any emergency or rescue operations including:
o Wildfires (PDF)
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 Aloft (formerly 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).
For preflight planning and research, B4UFLY is also available as a desktop version.
Key features include:
- A clear “status” indicator that informs the operator whether it is safe to fly or not. (For example, it shows flying in the Special Flight Rules Area around Washington, D.C. 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.
- The ability to check whether it is safe to fly in different locations by searching for a location or moving the location pin.
- Links to other FAA drone resources and regulatory information.
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.
- 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, and 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.
LAANC is available to pilots operating under the Small UAS Rule Part 107 or under the exception for Recreational Flyers. You can get access through one of the FAA Approved LAANC UAS Service Suppliers.
There are two ways to use LAANC:
- Receive a near real-time authorization for operations under 400 feet in controlled airspace around airports. (available to Part 107 Pilots and Recreational Flyers).
o Part 107 pilots may operate at night through LAANC using a national authorization.
- 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.
o You can 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 these steps.
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 726 airports. If you want to fly in controlled airspace near airports not offering LAANC, you can use the manual process to apply for authorization.
No Drone Zone
What is a No Drone Zone?
The FAA uses the term “No Drone Zone” to help people identify areas where they cannot operate a drone or unmanned aircraft system (UAS). The operating restrictions for a No Drone Zone are specific to a particular location. You can find out if there are airspace restrictions where you are planning to fly using the B4UFLY mobile app.
No Drone Zone Areas
- Restricted Airspace: The FAA prohibits drone flight over certain areas of airspace.
- Local Restrictions: In some locations, drone takeoffs and landings are restricted by state, local, territorial, or tribal government agencies. The FAA has provided No Drone Zone signage that can be used by these governments to identify areas where there are local flight restrictions. It is important to note, that these No Drone Zones only restrict taking off or landing and do not restrict flight in the airspace above the identified area.
- Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) define a certain area of airspace where air travel is limited for a period and may be in place for different reasons. The FAA may use the term “No Drone Zone” to identify an area where there is a TFR. Examples include major sporting events, presidential movements, or security-sensitive areas designated by federal agencies.
Restriction details of the TFR include, size, altitude, date/time, and what types of operations are restricted and permitted. All pilots are required to adhere to the restrictions of the TFR.
I’m a drone operator. What if I see a ‘No Drone Zone’ sign?
A No Drone Zone sign lets you know that taking off or landing your drone from the designated area is not allowed, per local restrictions. Be aware that even if you have an airspace authorization to fly in the airspace over this area, you do not have the authorization to take off or land from the property designated as a local No Drone Zone. In other words, airspace authorization does not mean land use approval.
I’m a state, local, territorial, or tribal government entity. What resources are available to me?
Only the FAA can restrict airspace. However, the FAA recognizes that drone safety is a partnership with local, state, tribal, and territorial government entities who have the right to regulate where drones are allowed to take off and land.
We have developed a sign that government entities can customize and use for their specific needs and locations. Signage should cite specific statutes or local regulations/policies that apply. The sign is not for private landowners.
Who should not use the No Drone Zone sign?
Private landowners who are looking to keep drones off their land should not use the “No Drone Zone” sign.
- State, local, territorial, or tribal government entities looking for information related to UAS should review the FAA’s fact sheet on state and local regulation of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) (PDF)
- Restricted or Special Use Airspace
- B4UFLY mobile app