U.S. FAA Restricts Drone Flights Over Select Sites
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has restricted the use of drones in the vicinity of 10 key landmarks in the country. Drones will now be allowed to fly up to 400 feet of the lateral boundaries of these landmarks, which include monuments and dams. The restriction is effective starting October 5, 2017. The FAA is said to be looking at restrictions at additional sites, pending requests from federal agencies.
The restrictions were implemented to address concerns over unauthorized drone operations at these sites, after requests from national security and law enforcement agencies. Violators may be subject to penalties and even criminal charges.
The 10 restricted sites (in alphabetical order) are:
- Boston National Historical Park (U.S.S. Constitution), Boston, MA
- Folsom Dam; Folsom, CA
- Glen Canyon Dam; Lake Powell, AZ
- Grand Coulee Dam; Grand Coulee, WA
- Hoover Dam; Boulder City, NV
- Independence National Historical Park, Philadelphia, PA
- Jefferson National Expansion Memorial; St. Louis, MO
- Mount Rushmore National Memorial; Keystone, SD
- Shasta Dam; Shasta Lake, CA
- Statue of Liberty National Monument, New York, NY
This is the first time airspace restrictions (for drones) have been placed over Department of the Interior (DOI) landmarks. Prior to this, the FAA had limited such restrictions primarily to airports, military bases, national parks and sports stadiums. Given that half of the sites in the new list are dams, this suggests increased sensitivity around utilities, on the part of security and law agencies.
A few exceptions have been allowed, where permission may be given to specific drone flights in coordination with the FAA or the individual facility. The FAA has provided online resources, including an interactive map, details on the airspace restrictions and FAQs.
The restriction on drone flights comes days after the US District Court in Newton, MA invalidated a city drone ordinance that mandated drone users to register their machines and allowed them to be flown below 400 feet over private property, only if they had permission from the property owners. The court felt that this contradicted the federal government’s drone regulations, and was also inconsistent with the FAA and Congress’ objectives “to integrate drones into the national airspace”.
Reports suggest other local jurisdictions across the U.S. have also either imposed or plan to impose restrictions on drone flights. The Massachusetts court decision is likely to influence the structure of comparable laws in the future, as states would be keen to avoid legal concerns similar to Newton.