UAS Airport Operators Guide
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations apply to the entire National Airspace System (NAS) -- "unregulated" airspace does not exist. Drone operators and airport operators should be familiar with the difference between controlled and uncontrolled airspace, as well as where UAS assets can be flown legally.
Controlled airspace is found around some airports and at certain altitudes where air traffic controllers are actively communicating with, directing, and separating all air traffic. Other airspace is considered uncontrolled in the regard that air traffic controllers are not directing air traffic within its limits.
In general, a drone can only be flown in uncontrolled airspace below 400 feet above the ground (AGL). Commercial drone operators are required to get permission from the FAA before flying in controlled airspace.
Anyone operating a UAS (drone) under the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, Part 101, must notify the airport operator prior to conducting UAS operations. Commercial operations conducted under Part 107 are not required to notify the airport operator unless the airport is located in Class B, C, D, or Surface Class E airspace. In that case, the operator must obtain airspace authorization from Air Traffic Control (ATC).
The operator of the UAS is not asking for permission, but rather fulfilling the requirement to notify the airport before commencing operations. The airport operator may object to the operation if they feel the UAS will endanger manned aircraft operations in the airspace surrounding the airport. If the airport operator does object, they should have specific reasons and be able to show how the UAS operation would be considered a “careless or reckless” operation.
It is recommended that airport operators work with pilots of UAS to coordinate flight operations. Working with UAS operators makes the airspace ultimately safer for manned aircraft and encourages UAS operators to coordinate with airports before operating. The Airport Operators UAS Checklist form may be helpful for tracking drone operations near airports.
The following is a list of questions that, at a minimum, the airport operator should ask.
- What is the name of person(s) operating the UAS?
- What is the contact information for the Remote PIC?
- How can the Remote PIC be contacted during the flight operation? (i.e. cellphone number)
- What is the make, model, and (most important) registration number on the aircraft?
- Will the operation be conducted under Part 107 (commercial) or Part 101 (hobbyist)? Is there a 333 exemption or COA?
- If the airport is located within the surface area of Class E, D, C, or B airspace, ask to see a copy of the airspace waiver. (NOTE: If the airport is located in Class G airspace, no waiver is necessary.)
- If there is an ATC tower located on the airfield, did the UAS operator coordinate with the tower?
- Where exactly will the flight be conducted? (i.e. direction and distance from the airport)
- At what altitude will the operation be flown? (i.e. 400 feet AGL or below)
- What is the date and time of the flight operation?
- How long will the operation take place?
To be clear, permission to operate UAS on or near an airport is not required from the airport operator; however by asking the questions above and by gathering as much information about the operation as possible, airport operators can help keep everyone on the ground and in the sky safe.