With the increase number of commercial and recreational drones being sold in the USA and the number of Part 107 pilots reaching the 100,000 milestone, it’s obvious that the amount of unmanned flights in the national airspace will continue to rise. It's an illustration of what happens when any industry is dealing with the excitement and possibilites that come with a new technology application. Unfortunately, this healthy increase in the amount of flights also increases the percentage of mishaps and bad actors that are and will be in that same airspace.

Because of that, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is constantly re-evaluating any areas that have to be protected from unwelcomed intrusions. It's part of the reason that on August 16th, the FAA announced further restrictions on three Department of Defnese (DoD) facilities in the continental USA.

At the request of its Federal security partners, the administration announced it is using its existing authority under Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations §99.7 “Special Security Instructions” – to address concerns about drone operations over national security-sensitive facilities by establishing temporary flight restrictions specific to unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

§99.7   “Special security instructions” clearly outlines that “Each person operating an aircraft in an ADIZ or Defense Area must, in addition to the applicable rules of this part, comply with special security instructions issued by the Administrator in the interest of national security, pursuant to agreement between the FAA and the Department of Defense, or between the FAA and a U.S. Federal security or intelligence agency.”

It's important to note that these instructions were written in 2004 and at the time were intended for manned aircraft. Today though, they are being applied to unmanned vehicles. It's another illustration of how these two very different platforms are being treated in the same manner.

In cooperation with DOD, the FAA is establishing additional restrictions on drone flights up to 400 feet within the lateral boundaries of the following Federal facilities:

  • National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) West near St. Louis, MO
  • NGA Next West near St. Louis, MO
  • NGA Arnold near St. Louis, MO

These changes, which are highlighted by FAA NOTAM FDC 8/7350, are pending until they become effective on August 30, 2018. Note that there are only a few exceptions that permit drone flights within these restrictions, and they must be coordinated with the individual facility and/or the FAA. Operators who violate the flight restrictions may be subject to enforcement action, including potential civil penalties and criminal charges.

Information on the FAA Notice to Airmen (NOTAM), which defines these restrictions, and all of the currently covered locations can be found on the FAA GIS website specifically designed to serve as the main source of information for prohibited and restricted areas. This FAA website also provides an interactive map, downloadable geospatial data, and other important details. These restrictions also are depicted in the FAA’s B4UFLY mobile app. Additional, broader information regarding flying drones in the National Airspace System, including frequently asked questions, is available on the FAA dedicated UAV website.

The administration continues to consider additional requests by eligible Federal security agencies for UAS-specific flight restrictions using the Agency’s § 99.7 authority as they are received. Further changes to these restrictions are possible and will be announced by the FAA as they are decided upon and implemented.

It's important for commercial operators to be aware of these restrictions and to strictly adhere to them. The safer we are as an industry the faster the FAA and all related agencies will approve flights BVLOS and the full integration of manned and unmanned aircraft in controlled airspace.