You Can't Fly a Drone Here, Here, and Here



The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is in charge of regulating unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones. Sort of. Their regulations aren't totally comprehensible (when they actually exist), and a federal court has affirmed that the FAA's case-by-case judgment calls aren't actually legally binding.

This lack of clarity about what is allowed where has made flying drones—which is in many cases a glorified term for remote-controlled toys—difficult and legally tricky for a lot of people. Services ranging from a beer delivery business to a charitable search-and-rescue team have been hassled and shut down by the FAA. The administration sometimes even throws hissy fits over people filming their own weddings with drones.

Bobby Sudekum, a data analyst and engineer for the mapmaking site MapBox, can't cure FAA ineptitude and pettiness, but as consumer sales of drones continue to grow he is trying "to help people find safe places to fly." To do so, he created the above map and published it this week. Click on it, and it will lead you to an interactive version on which you can zoom and see more precise locations.

He explains that this map is "just a start" and that anyone can submit information about more no-fly spots. So far, the off-limits areas marked are only national parks, military bases, and 5-mile radii around medium and large airports. Wired points out that "you'll see on the map … that there isn't a no-fly area over Berkeley Lab," which is a secure national laboratory. "Similarly, there is no zone marked around Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, one of the country's two nuclear weapons labs."

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  1. Aside from airport approach and take-off corridors, is there anywehre these toys can reach where they actually run the risk of interacting with manned aircraft?

    1. Apparently around bridges in New York.

    2. The thing is, the term ‘drone’ is just about meaningless.

      If I have a four-prop battery operated toy where ‘drone’ is mostly a marketing term, the answer to your question is ‘no’.

      If I have something running off JP4 that can carry a Hellfire missile, the answer to your question is ‘yes’.

      So ‘drone’ has just become another buzzword to hyperventilate about – whatever regs may be needed, they need to introduce a useful taxonomy.

      1. A useful taxonomy would cut into their unaccountable subjective authority. So it won’t happen.

    3. In the absence of a pilot there will be no clear delineation between a big toy and a small airplane.

      1. All airplanes are a toy to some extent, even when used for mundane utility.

    4. I live next to Camp Peary. I can guarantee that if I were to fly over that base with a drone, I would be renditioned before sunup. I wouldn’t even want to risk it.

  2. “Don’t Fly Drones Here” map deemed illegal in 3, 2, 1, ….

    1. National Security!


  3. Nice alt-text Zenon.

    I don’t want to hear your excuses! The map needs to be at least… three times bigger than this!

  4. “Find out what they’re doing and make them stop it”.

  5. So it’s illegal for a kid to fly a radio-controlled airplane south of downtown. Huh. Unenforced much?

  6. My County Forest Preserve District is actually building a model aircraft runway within one of those zones.

    Its been under construction for the last couple months.

    Why it takes that long to pave an acre of ground, throw up a few trash-cans and a billboard with rules is beyond me.

  7. All right, just from looking at the no-fly sites around Yuma, AZ I can tell you that a lot of this is the normal, ‘any excuse to enact a restriction’ bullshit.

    Nobody flies over Yuma Proving Ground, its mainly an artillery and vehicle testing range.

    The one called ‘Luke AF Range’ is actually *several* separate ranges, that are only used sporadically by the AF and Marines – no need for a blanket no-fly, simply allow people to coordinate with range control.

    The Exclusion zone around Yuma Airport is like three freaking miles in radius. For an airport that has commercial flight *twice* a day and is otherwise a general aviation port – again, a huge exclusion zone is ridiculous. You could cut that in half (especially on the bearings away from the landing/approach lines) and surround *that* zone with one that has an altitude/tower contact requirement.

    1. To give you an idea how ridiculous that exclusion zone around the airport is – it not only covers half the city, but a large number of agriculture fields that regularly have helicopters fumigating them *at night* (these guys are acrobatic – they literally land on top of a semi to reload).

      There is pretty much nothing flying below 1000 feet in the vicinity of the airport during the *day*.

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