Restricted Airspace . . . . No Trespassing!!

By now everyone has seen the pictures of the DJI Phantom that crashed on the lawn of the White House.  Even the most ignorant hobbyist should know that you can’t fly a UAS there without potentially getting into some serious trouble.  But what about across the street at Lafayette Park?  What about flying it on the Mall where, on any spring day, there are dozens of people flying kites?  Now we are into an area that few people seem to know about:  Temporary Flight Restrictions, Special Flight Rules Areas, and National Defense Airspace.

Most people are completely unaware that on any given day, there are a number of “no-fly” zones in the United States.  Some of these areas are permanent, and some are temporary.  Flying in these zones can be a very serious matter.  If the zone has been designated National Defense Airspace then, in addition to a civil penalty, the flight is a crime and can get the pilot up to a year in jail.  The problem for most people is finding out where these restrictions are, as most are not very well publicized.

The FAA’s NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) system is the best way to find both the temporary and permanent restrictions.  To help get you started, here is a list of some of the more significant restrictions currently in place.

The Washington, DC Flight Restricted Zone:  This is probably the most significant no-fly zone given its size and location.  The zone covers a circle (with some exceptions) with a radius of 15 nautical miles around Reagan National Airport, and all flights of UAS or model aircraft are specifically prohibited.  This means that areas as far north as Rockville, MD and as far west as Tyson’s Corner, Virginia are within the zone.

The Disney Theme Parks:  A 3 nautical mile circle around both Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World  have been designated as National Defense Airspace.  Under the NOTAMs, both of which were updated recently to specifically include a prohibition of all UAS operations, no aircraft can operate below 3000 feet in these areas.

Stadiums on Game Day:  An area 3 nm around any stadium hosting a “regular or post season major league baseball, national football league, or NCAA division one football game,” as well as any “NASCAR sprint cup, Indy car, and champ series races,” is considered National Defense Airspace.  The flight restrictions start one hour before the scheduled time of the event, and end one hour after the event has ended.

Super Bowl XLIX :  While the Super Bowl obviously falls under the scope of the above NOTAM as a post season NFL game, given the importance of the event, the FAA has issued a number of additional restrictions.  No aircraft are permitted within 10 nautical miles of the stadium between 3:25 PM and midnight.  In addition, only flights arriving or departing local airports are permitted within 30 nautical miles.  As a result, no UAS or model aircraft can be flown within 30 nautical miles of the stadium before or during the game.  In case you think they aren’t serious and you are planning on taking your UAS to a tailgate party, the notice specifically warns that the “United States Government may use deadly force against the airborne aircraft, if it is determined that the aircraft poses an imminent security threat.”

Of course, just because you are away from sensitive areas and concentrations of people, there are still significant restrictions to be aware of, such as the blanket ban on UAS operations at all National Parks.  So, before you fly, you should make an effort to ensure that you know of all of the flight restrictions in your area.  If you don’t, it could be your UAS that is on the cover of every major newspaper in the country.

(Originally posted January 27, 2015)

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