Where Can I Fly

DOG expects this to cleared up in due time, but today we have some confusion about where we can fly, and when we must contact an airport.  If you use one of the apps (such as B4YOUFLY) you may get a warning that you are within 5 miles of an airport.  What is up with that?

(UPDATE 2/24/16:  The FAA has a collection of best practices to follow when flying near an airport for recreation.  Look here.)

First things first.  Are you flying under a Section 333 Exemption?  Then you must follow your Blanket COA that came with the exemption, or a Standard COA that was issued to you.  The key provision of the Blanket COA appear in Notice JO 7210.891 which you can get here.

Are you flying strictly for hobby or recreational use?  Then you should follow circular AC 91-57A, which you can get here.  And, you can read my article available here.

If you have a Section 333 exemption the FAA thinks you should follow your COA, even if that particular drone is being flown for recreation.

And, if you don’t have a Section 333 exemption, you can’t fly the drone for commercial purposes.

Commercial Flying

The Blanket COA allows the proponent to operate:

  • 5 nautical miles away from an airport with an operating control tower.
  • 3 nautical miles from an uncontrolled airport with an instrument approach procedure.
  • 2 nautical miles from all other airports, heliports and seaports.
  • At or below 200 feet AGL.

Check the list here for some information on whether an airport has a control tower or a published instrument approach procedure.  As examples, Lake Wohlford Resort has a strip with no control tower and no instrument landing procedure.  A commercial drone flight should stay 2 nautical miles away, and below 200 feet.  Fallbrook has an airport with no control tower, but a published instrument procedure.  A commercial drone flight should stay 3 nautical miles away, and below 200 feet. Ramona has an airport with a control tower. A commercial drone flight should stay 5 nautical miles away, and below 200 feet. 

Check here if you need help determining how far you are from an airport.

Recreational Flying

Here we are dealing currently with an interpretation of Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, Public Law 112-95.  You can find a copy here.  Section 336 doesn’t set forth positive restrictions on the recreational pilot; rather, it removes authority from the FAA to regulate "model  aircraft operation” which is defined by a set of practices, one of which is:

"When flown within 5 miles of an airport, the operator of the model aircraft provides the airport operator or the airport air traffic control tower (when an air traffic facility is located at the airport) with prior notice of the operation.”

In other words, in geek speak this is a necessary but not sufficient condition to be a recreational flyer.

Notice the difference.  Recreational users need to give prior notice to any airport within 5 miles.  

Circular AC 91-57A doesn’t purport to establish a ceiling for recreational flight, but states as a safety guidline:

"Model aircraft operators should follow best practices including limiting operations to 400 feet above ground level (AGL).”

No-Fly Zones

Also, be sure to check TFR and NOTAM (example) for additional restrictions on where you can fly.

`© Robert Rose 2015