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
Airspace is divided into a number of classes from Class A through Class G. The current system was adopted by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in 1990. The US does not utilize Class F airspace which leaves Class A, Class B, Class C, Class D, Class E, and Class G airspace. These classes all fall into two categories: controlled airspace and uncontrolled airspace. Understanding the boundaries of each class of airspace can be difficult. You should start by nailing down the basic definitions of each.
Controlled Airspace (includes Class A, B, C, D, and E):
Class A: Generally, Class A airspace is the airspace from 18,000 feet all the way up to 60,000 feet. It is unlikely that you will ever be operating a drone at these altitudes, though there are some military and public applications for drones in Class A airspace. The new Part 107 drone rule does not permit drone flights in Class A airspace. However, you could technically request a waiver to this requirement.
Class B: Generally, Class B airspace is the airspace from the ground to 10,000 feet surrounding the nation’s busiest airports. Often Class B airspace has several layers that widen as you move higher up in the air. As a result, Class B airspace will often look like an upside down wedding cake if you were viewing it from the ground at a distance. The new Part 107 drone rule allows you to fly your drone in Class B airspace if you have prior authorization from Air Traffic Control. You may find yourself needing to operate your drone at low altitudes in Class B airspace (maybe to take some aerial footage of a property or inspect a cell tower or bridge). These low-altitude drone operations are not likely to create a safety hazard for manned aircraft and are prime candidates for authorized by Air Traffic Control.
Class C: Class C airspace can be though of as the smaller sidekick of Class B airspace. Generally, Class C airspace is the airspace from the ground to 4,000 feet in the areas surrounding medium size airports that have an operational control tower and are serviced by radar approach control. The new Part 107 drone rule allows you to fly your drone in Class C airspace if you have prior authorization from Air Traffic Control. As with Class B airspace, low-altitude drone flights should be authorized by air traffic controls as long as the drone flights do not interfere with or endanger manned aircraft.
Class D: Class D airspace is an even small version of Class B and Class C airspace. Generally, Class D airspace is the airspace from the ground to 2,500 feet in the areas surrounding smaller airports that still have an operational control tower. The new Part 107 drone rule allows you to fly your drone in Class D airspace if you have prior authorization from Air Traffic Control. Again, authorization for low-altitude drone operations in Class D airspace should not be difficult to obtain.
Class E: Class E is any controlled airspace that is not Class A, Class B, Class C, or Class D airspace. Class E is probably the most likely airspace you will operate in as a drone pilot and is divided into two categories—Class E Surface Airspace and regular Class E Airspace.
Class E Surface Airspace generally extends from the ground upward until it reaches the next applicable airspace classification. Class E Surface airspace is often found around small airports that do not have control facilities. The area is denoted on aeronautical maps by a dashed magenta line (usually forming a circle) around the airport with no traffic control tower.
Class E Airspace (non-surface) generally extends from either 700 feet and upward until it reaches the next applicable airspace classification (denoted by a thick magenta border with a faded inside edge), or 1200 feet and upward until it reaches the next applicable airspace classification (denoted by a thick blue border with a faded inside edge).
Uncontrolled Airspace (Class G):
Class G: Class G airspace is the portion of the airspace that has not been designated as Class A, B, C, D, or E and is therefore designated uncontrolled airspace. Class G airspace extends from the surface to the base of the overlying airspace (generally Class E). Air traffic control has no authority over Class G airspace. However, flights in Class G airspace are still subject to applicable Federal laws and FAA regulations. The vast majority of drone flights will take place in Class G airspace which means the drone pilot will need no special permission and will not be required to give any type of notice or air traffic control (assuming the operation is taking place under the new Part 107 drone rule).
Part 107 Drone Rule
Can I call the air traffic control tower at my local airport to request permission to fly my drone in Class C or E airspace?
According to the FAA, all airspace permission requests must be made through the online portal. This mandate does not appear in the actual language of the Small UAS rule. The rule itself (14 CFR 107) merely requires that you contact the Air Traffic Control facility responsible for the space and obtain permission.
The Small UAS rule (14 CFR 107) prohibits drone pilots who are operating under the rule from operating their drones in Class B, Class C, Class D, or the lateral boundaries of the surface area of Class E airspace designated for an airport without first obtaining permission from Air Traffic Control. The FAA has developed an online portal through which a drone pilot can contact Air Traffic Control and request permission to enter the otherwise prohibited airspace. The FAA has indicated that the online portal will be the only means by which a drone pilot can request permission to enter prohibited airspace classes. US Drone Law notes that the code section requiring permission from Air Traffic Control to fly in Class E, D, C, or B airspace does not specify the steps that must be taken by an operator when they contact Air Traffic Control.
When you are and are not required to get permission before your fly your drone can be a tricky and depends on whether you are operating your drone for recreational purposes (under the Special Rule for Model Aircraft) or flying your drone for other non-recreational purposes (under the new Small UAS rule, Section 333 exemption, or public COA).
If you are flying your drone for recreational purposes under the Special Rule for Model Aircraft then you do not need permission to fly your drone in Class G airspace, unless you are flying your drone within 5 miles of an airport. Even in this case, you don’t technically need permission, but you are required to notify the airport operator and airport control tower of the of the planned flight.
If you are flying your drone for non-recreational purposes and meet the requirements of the new drone rules (14 CFR 107), then you do not need permission to fly your drone in Class G airspace.
If you are flying a drone under your Section 333 exemption or a public COA, then you will need to comply with the specific terms of your exemption or COA.