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Airport Operator's Guide to UAS

Airspace Guidance for sUAS Operators

Airspace Guidance for Small UAS Operators

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, and where you can legally fly sUAS assets. 

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, you can only fly your drone 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 which case, the operator must obtain an Airspace Authorization from 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 that the UAS will endanger manned aircraft operations in the airspace surrounding the airport.  If the airport operator does so, 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 their 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:

  • Name of person(s) operating the UAS
  • Contact information for the Remote PIC
  • How can the Remote PIC be contacted during the flight operation?  Cellphone number?
  • Make, model, and most of all, registration number on aircraft.
  • Ask if the operation will be conducted under Part 107 (Commercial Operation) or Part 101 (hobbyist), or if they have a 333 exemption or COA.
  • If your airport is located within the Surface Area of Class E, D, C, or B Airspace, ask to see a copy of their airspace waiver.  (If your airport is located in class G Airspace, no waiver is necessary.)
  • Remind them to also coordinate with the ATC tower if one is located on your airfield.
  • Where exactly will the flight be conducted?  (Direction and distance from the airport?)
  • At what altitude will the operation be flown?  (400 ft. AGL or below)
  • Date and time of flight operation?
  • How long will the operation take place?

To reiterate the guidance above, permission to operate a 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.