US Drone Law
Cutting Edge Legal Analysis for
Cutting Edge Drone Technology
US Drone Law is not a law firm. The contents of this site do not represent legal advice and are for informational purposes only.
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Frequently Asked Questions
If you are operating your drone under the Special Rule for Model Aircraft (e.g. flying your drone for recreational purposes), then yes, you must contact any airports (including heliports and sea-based airports) and air traffic control towers within five miles of your proposed area of operations.
If you are operating your drone for other than recreational purposes pursuant to the new Part 107 drone rules, you are not required to notify airports within five miles of your planned flight area as long as you comply with the Part 107 airspace restrictions. In short, if you are flying your drone in Class G airspace (which includes the airspace around most small airports that do not have an air traffic control tower), then you are fine as along as your drone operations do not interfere with the “operations and traffic patterns” of the “airport, heliport, or seaplane base.”
If you are operating a drone under a Section 333 exemption or a public COA then you will need to follow the specific terms of that exemption or COA.
The FAA has developed an app for Apple and Android smartphones called B4UFly. The app determines your location with the GPS on your phone and then informs you of any flight restrictions in your area. The app can be a little misleading, though. When you open the app you will see an interactive map, and, depending on your location, the map may display many airports all around your location. You may not recognize many of these airports even if you have lived in the area for a long time. This is because the app displays all airports that meet the regulatory definition of an airport, from the largest commercial airports to registered helipads and backyard airstrips. The app displays a five-mile radius around each of these “airports” and can leave the impression that there are very few locations where you may fly your drone.
It is true that the Special Rule for Model Aircraft (Section 336 of Public Law 112-95) does require drone operators, when flying their drone within 5 miles of an airport, to provides the airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower with prior notice of the planned flight. However, this requirement is different for non-recreational users.
The best way to determine where you can and can’t fly your drone is to review an aeronautical map (https://sua.faa.gov/), locate airports and determine what class of airspace you plan to fly in, and then contact the necessary parties (if any) to provide notice or obtain the permission needed.
It depends. Federal law prohibits drones from flying where there are temporary flight restrictions. The FAA will often issue Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs) to announce temporary flight restrictions. In the case of stadiums, the FAA has issued a NOTAM that prohibits drone pilots from flying a drone at or below 3,000 above ground level (AGL) within a 3 nautical mile radius of any stadium with a seating capacity of 30,000 or more people during a Major League Baseball (MLB), regular or post-season National Football League (NFL), or NCAA Division I football game, or major motor speedway event. This temporary flight restriction applies to the entire U.S. domestic national airspace system and takes effect starting one hour before the scheduled event time until one hour after the event concludes. You can read the full NOTAM on the FAA website.
If you are flying your drone for purely recreational purposes then you are technically allowed to fly over small stadiums and sporting events that fall outside those described above. However, flying your drone over a crowd of unprotected people might be viewed by some as operating your drone outside the “community based set of safety guidelines” for recreational drones. There is currently not definitive answer to this question.
Anyone operating a drone under a Section 333 exemption or a public COA should comply with the specific requirements of the exemption or COA.
Following 9/11, the FAA and the Transportation Security Administration banned nearly all aviation, including model aviation (which would include recreational drone flights), from what is known at the Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ) around Washington, DC. The FRZ is an area of approximately 10 nautical miles centered around Reagan National Airport in Virginia.
On February 10, 2016, the FAA updated its conditions for flying unmanned aircraft in the area between 15 and 30 miles from Washington, D.C., to clarify differences for various types of unmanned aircraft. Under the new procedures, recreational drone pilots can fly a drone that weighs less than 55 lbs. (takeoff weight) in the area between 15 and 30 miles of Washington, D.C. if the aircraft are registered and marked, and they follow specific operating conditions. The operating conditions require them to fly no higher than 400 feet above ground, stay in the operator’s line of sight, only fly in clear conditions, and avoid other aircraft.