April 21, 2016

Recently published guidelines for operating unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) within the outer ring of the special flight rules area (SFRA) surrounding Washington, DC build upon prior guidance issued by the FAA regarding operation of small UAS.

FDC NOTAM 6/0126 outlines procedures for operating UAS within approximately 15 and 30 miles from the nation’s capital, including the requirement that all UAS operated within the SFRA must display the operator’s registration number. The revised guidelines still prohibit unmanned aircraft operations within the flight restricted zone (FRZ), a roughly 15-mile radius surrounding Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA).

Unmanned aircraft flown within the SFRA must also operate at 400 feet above ground level or lower, in daytime visual flight conditions, within the operator’s line of sight. Operators planning to fly UAS within 5 miles of a DC-area airport must notify the airport operator and, if present, the field’s control tower prior to flight.

Those stipulations mirror regulations proposed by the agency last year governing small UAS operations across the country. In February, the FAA reopened the SFRA to recreational and non-commercial UAS weighing less than 55 pounds, including model aircraft, flown in compliance with similar requirements.

“This latest step marks a natural evolution in the FAA’s move toward sensible UAS regulations that maintain safety and national security, without presenting an undue burden for operators,” said Bob Lamond, NBAA’s director of air traffic services and infrastructure. “It reflects the agency’s growing confidence in the industry’s ability to operate within the spirit of the proposed regulations.”

The NOTAM also includes resources – including the FAA’s ‘B4UFLY’ smartphone application – that recreational UAS operators can use to determine whether there are any restrictions or requirements in effect at the location where they want to fly.

In its nearly 10 years of participation in several UAS working groups, NBAA has long-asserted that unmanned aircraft must not pose a risk to manned aircraft operations. That includes ensuring that UAS should not share airspace with manned aircraft until they have equivalent certification and airworthiness standards, the ability to sense and avoid other traffic, and the ability to promptly respond to direction from air traffic control.

Earlier this month, NBAA joined with several other aviation groups in signing a letter opposing two proposals that sought to eliminate the FAA’s oversight role in UAS regulation and integration into the National Airspace System. Those legislative amendments were ultimately not included in the recently passed Senate FAA reauthorization measure.

View NBAA’s UAS resources.